Saturday, 13 October 2012

Historical sources on Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth

This article was written for the Sikh Magazine Sant Sipahai and published in March 2010. 

Historical sources on Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth

Gurinder Singh Mann, Leicester, UK

For the Sikhs Guru Granth Sahib is the living embodiment of the Ten Gurus. The Granth contains the writings of the first Five Gurus of the Sikhs, the verses of the Ninth Guru, and one verse from the Tenth Guru. It also contains contributions from the Bhatts and Bhagats of India. Hence Guru Granth Sahib is a compilation of verses from many contributors but the common theme is that they all share the same vision of God. Sri Dasam Granth however differs in some respects in terms of tone and instructional value to that of the Guru Granth Sahib. Whilst this may seem like a problem to some; the Granth is complementary or moreover an extension of the themes in the Guru Granth Sahib. The sole writer of Sri Dasam Granth is none other than Guru Gobind Singh where he has written within it the dates and places of compilation.
To many Sikhs the history and compilation of the Sikh scriptures may not warrant any enquiry. However, it is still an important reminder of how a religious scripture comes into formation and this helps in our understanding of the religion itself. Whilst Guru Granth Sahib is not a historical Granth it still sheds light on the historical development of the early phases of the Sikh faith. There are several examples including the invasion of Babar and its reaction by Guru Nanak, commonly referred to as “Babur Bani”. We also learn about how the Gurus successors were nominated and given the light of the Guru including Guru Angad’s ascension which is described by the Vars of Balwand and Sata. During the time of the Gurus there were only a few commentaries on the Guru Granth Sahib: these include Bhai Gurdas in his Vars and there is information also in the hagiographic accounts called the Janamsakhis. These commentaries only give more information and expansion on the Guru Granth Sahib as opposed to its history and compilation.
It is not until we reach the court of Guru Gobind Singh that we see the formation of Sikh history and the expansion of the literary tradition. The Guru is not only finalising his own compositions of Sri Dasam Granth but also ensuring that the Guru Granth Sahib is given its final form or Rup. At this time the compositions of the Ninth Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur are placed into the Pothi Sahib and a recension of the Guru Granth Sahib is created. It is during this time that several recensions of Sri Dasam Granth are also created namely the Anandpuri Bir and the Patna Saroop of 1698. As there were many writers, scribes and Kavis in the court of the Guru, this is the first time that Guru Granth Sahib is given a historical perspective. These accounts explain how Guru Granth Sahib is seen as the final Guru of the Sikhs yet these same sources also explain how Sri Dasam Granth Sahib was created. Many of these sources in the 18th century quote from the Guru Granth Sahib as well as the Sri Dasam Granth within these texts.
This assertion really questions the authorships doubts that some have on Sri Dasam Granth. These newly found distortions continue to fascinate some who are not knowledgeable on history of the Sikh religion. Essentially the same sources that proclaim the history and compilation of Guru Granth Sahib also support the creation of Sri Dasam Granth. To some this may sound obvious but these sources all appear after the recensions of Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth have been created. These narrations explain what has happened in Sikh history yet modern scholars when trying to explain the Sikh religion either naively or purposely forget to mention the fact that the notes of creation and the composition of Sri Dasam Granth are also included in these books.
We can consider a few examples to explain how this distortion has manifested. One of the first sources quoting compositions from Sri Dasam Granth is Parchain Sewa Das, written in 1708, one year after the passing of the Tenth Guru. The writer makes reference to the Zafarnama and also gives important information on the last hours of the Guru’s life. According to the text a couplet from Ram Avatar was recited by the Guru before his submission to Akal Purkh, the following was stated

Ever since I grasped Your feet,
Everything else has lost its appeal.
Rama, Rahim, Puranas, Quran - All say different things;
I accept none of them.
Smritis, Shastras, Vedas, all deal with mysteries,
I pay no heed to them either.
O the Wielder of the Sword (All-powerful One),
This is all Your Grace; You, not I, have said everything.
                                                                        (Ram Avatar, Sri Dasam Granth)

This couplet is important as it is also recited by Sikhs as part of their Rehras or evening liturgy of prayers. 
Another early Source on Sikh history is Gursobha Granth (Radiance of the Guru), (1711) written by one of the court poets, Kavi Sainapat. In this book the history of the Guru’s battles are explained and elaborated on. This book takes its cue from the composition Bachitra Natak, where the Guru describes his own battles. This composition explains neatly how the Gurus share the same light or Jot and also explains how and why the Tenth Guru was sent by Akal Purkh to create the Khalsa. The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur is also explained within this composition. The Gursobha carries on this theme and explains how the Khalsa was formulated. Gursobha Granth is written entirely in the Braj language, the same language in which Sri Dasam Granth is primarily written.  The language and style of the Gursobha is patterned on that of the Bachitra Natak. In this historical narration Kavi Sainapat explains how after the Tenth Guru the Khalsa is to continue the Gurus form (rup) in the Khalsa itself and in the Shabad and bani. This source does not clarify what the bani or Shabad is.
Another important source is the little spoken about Sikhan Di Bhagatmala, which is historically attributed to Bhai Mani Singh. It is said to have been compiled by Baba Kaladhari, a descendent of Guru Nanak around early 1700s. This book clearly narrates the importance of Gurbani by Guru Arjan to his followers as well as how he wrote the Pothi Sahib after obtaining the pothis from Baba Mohan. This same book also explains why Sri Dasam Granth had to be created. And we are also informed that Guru Gobind Singh stated that Guru Granth Sahib is devotional and that Sri Dasam Granth is a martial Granth. Sikhan Di Bhagatmala also narrates that Sri Dasam Granth was written so that the Saints who read the Guru Granth Sahib could then pick up Shastars and wield them in battle. The Charitropakhyan was written so that the Sikhs would not get their minds tangled in lust.
Guru Kian Sakhian (Stories of the Gurus) written around 1790 by Sarup Singh Kaushish is one of the first books which mentions the 5 K’s and elaborates on how the Khande De Pahul ceremony took place. The book also narrates on how Guru Gadi is given to the Guru Granth Sahib after Guru Gobind Singh merged his soul with the almighty. In this book many of the compositions of Sri Dasam Granth are quoted as well as the chronology of the book following the dates in Sri Dasam Granth. The book quotes from the Bachitra Natak and the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur is explained. The dates and times of writing Krishna Avatar by the Guru is given, as well as explaining why this composition was narrated in the Guru’s Durbar. The dates of starting and completing the Charitropakhyan are also given as well as narrating why Chaupai Sahib was recited to help the Guru in battle. In regards to the time of giving Amrit to the Panj Pyare, the Guru is said to have recited couplets from Shastar Nam Mala. There are many other instances of Sri Dasam Granth being quoted within the book showing that it would not be possible to write an important text without the bani of the Tenth Guru.
One of the most important books in the 18th Century is the Bansavlinama (1769) written by Kesar Singh Chibber.  In this book Kesar Singh explains how Guru Granth Sahib came into formation He also states that in order to see biographical details of Guru Nanak one could read the Janamsakhis. He also points out that the biographies of the other Gurus are not that forthcoming.  This concurs with the idea that it was only until the Durbar of the Tenth Guru was created that we see the major work undertaken on Sikh history. He explains the lineage of the Gurus by quoting from Bachitra Natak as this best describes the Gurus continuity. Chibber also tells us that when the Guru tried to obtain a copy of the Granth Sahib from Dhir Mal, he was told that if he was now the Guru he should get his own Granth prepared. As a result a recension of the Guru Granth Sahib was prepared and his own Granth or Dasven Patshah Ka Granth was also created. There is also explanation on other writings of the Guru like the Avatar Lila and Samundar Sagar. The Guru was asked to combine both the Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth but he refused and stated that they should stay separate as individual Granths. Most importantly Chibber states that both Granths are like brothers but Guru Granth Sahib is the one that holds the status of the Tikka (Crown). Some writers have quoted this text but intentionally miss out one important aspect; this is when Chibber states that both Sri Dasam Granth and the Guru Granth Sahib is Guru. This important fact continues with both Granths installed at Takhts Patna Sahib and Hazur Sahib, together with all Gurudwaras associated with the Akali Nihang Singhs and places associated with the Damdami Taksal. This practice was discontinued at the Akal Takht only in the 1940’s but still continues at the Akali Phula Burj not so far from the Akal Takht.
Another area which deserves some consideration is the literature referred to as Rahitnamas or letters of injuncture which have directly or indirectly been written by the Tenth Guru or on his behalf by his followers. Recently some individuals have tried to point out that these Rahitnamas were written long after the dates within the text. It is quite unacceptable to make these pronouncements without any hard evidence hence the dates as written should stand as they are. One of these Rahitnamas is the Bhai Desa Singh Rahitnama. This document prescribes many codes of conduct that a Sikh should follow including taking Pahul, staying away from intoxicants, learning Gurmukhi etc. It also states that “A Sikh should memorise hymns from both the Guru Granth Sahib and Sri Dasam Granth”. This Rahitnama continues with a dream where Bhai Desa Singh was told about the historical creation and compilation of Sri Dasam Granth by Guru Gobind Singh himself.
            The Chaupa Singh Rahitnama (1700), written by Bhai Chaupa Singh who was in the court of the Tenth Guru gives us many codes of conduct that the Sikhs must follow. This is one of the earliest documents in Sikh history where the supremacy of the Guru Granth Sahib is continually emphasised. All the way through, the compositions of Sri Dasam Granth are quoted and discussed including the Bachitra Natak, Chandi Charitra and the Charitropakhyan.  It also sheds light on the dates of Jaap Sahib and Akal Ustat. This Rahitnama clearly explains the significance of both Granths in explaining and understanding Sikhism at that time.
            Unfortunately we can see that there is a deliberate distortion which amounts to intellectual dishonesty, on the part of some scholars of Sikhism. The sources from Sikh history which have extensive accounts on the existence of Sri Dasam Granth are the same sources that have quotes emphasising the supremacy of Guru Granth Sahib. However the continued promotion of Guru Granth Sahib and the continued demotion of Sri Dasam Granth has now left the field of Sikh studies misunderstanding the bani of the Guru Gobind Singh. As a result these scholars have only told one side of the story yet the daily Nitnem requires the recital of compositions from both Granths, as does the Sikh baptismal ceremony Khanda Da Pahul. The Sikh Ardas comes not from the Guru Granth Sahib but the composition Chandi Di Var from Sri Dasam Granth. The regular recitation of hymns of both Granths at the Harimandir Sahib shows the importance that Kirtanis hold for both scriptures. However whilst modern day scholars not trained in Sri Dasam Granth scholarship can try and distort Sikh history it is quite clear to see that the books which show the history of the Guru Granth Sahib also show the importance of Sri Dasam Granth. Yet these same scholars show the supremacy of the Guru Granth Sahib by using these sources but blindly forget that they also show the same supremacy of Sri Dasam Granth.
If you want a historical narration of the Guru Granth Sahib this can only be undertaken after the Durbar of the Tenth Guru was formed, which was the same time when Sri Dasam Granth was formed. So anyone distorting the sources of Sri Dasam Granth also distorts the sources of the creation of the Guru Granth Sahib. This is because Sri Dasam Granth is the bani of the Tenth Guru and that is why it is widely commented upon in the 18th century. As a result “Sri Dasam Granth is an inseparable part of the Sikh panth” – A notion emphasised throughout the Sikh history.

For more information read the book Sri Dasam Granth Sahib: Questions and Answers


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