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Siri Guru Granth Sahib - The Source

INTRODUCTION

Siri Guru Granth Sahib has the unique distinction of having been compiled by the Sikh Gurus themselves, so the structure can be described as nothing less than methodically flawless. Siri Guru Granth Sahib, also known as Shabad Guru or the Living Guru (Master), encapsulates divine spiritual wisdom for the betterment of humankind. The teachings present a universal, indiscriminate message with music (raags) used as the primary medium to convey the diverse communications of love, faith, truth and justice.

The Siri Guru Granth Sahib is a collection of 1,430 ang (respectful term for pages), containing 3,384 poetic compositions, or shabads (shabds), with verse forms including swayas, saloks and vaars (ballads), composed by 43 authors in 60 raags (musical moods). Sikh Gurus created 32 of the 60 raags: 31 raags were created by Guru Arjan Dev ji (the fifth Sikh Master) and the 32nd, Raag Jaijavantee, was created by Guru Tegh Bahadur (the ninth Sikh Master). The remaining 28 raags already existed in the tradition of Indian classical music and were carefully selected and allocated by the Gurus.

Guru Arjan Dev ji compiled the first draft of the scripture, known as Adi Granth (literally, “first book”), in 1604 and installed it in Harmandir Sahib, today’s Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. Adi Granth remained with the Gurus until the imposter Dhir Mal took it, hoping that by possessing the Granth he could succeed as guru. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, dictated the entire scripture of Adi Granth to his scribes from memory, adding his father's hymns and one of his own compositions. Upon his death he appointed the sacred scripture Siri Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Living Guru of the Sikhs.

AUTHORS

Siri Guru Granth Sahib is an anthology not only of the sacred compositions of the Gurus (Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Angad Dev Ji, Guru Amar Das Ji, Guru Ram Das Ji, Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji and Guru Gobind Singh), but also of some medieval Indian Bhagats (saints) and Bhatts (bards). The inclusion of compositions by poets of different faiths, without distinguishing between them by label, adds to its uniqueness. The composers came from a variety of class and creedal backgrounds, from Muslim to Hindu and from upper caste to low caste. The lack of discrimination in the scripture is born of the progressive thought of the Sikh Masters.

The vocabulary of Guru Granth Sahib draws considerably on areas of religion, philosophy, mysticism, mythology and law, as well as more common concerns of life, and includes the Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Punjabi and Braj languages.

The authors of Guru Granth Sahib include: 

  1. Four Sikhs
  2. Seven Sikh Gurus
  3. Fifteen Bhagats
  4. Seventeen Bhatts

Sikh Bard Authors

Descended from minstrel families, Sikh bards associated closely with the Gurus.

  1. Mardana - 3 saloks: Mardana, a minstrel from a Muslim family, played the rabab and accompanied First Guru Nanak Dev on his travels.
  2. Satai - 1 vaar (ballad): Satai played the rebeck in the court of Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, and Guru Arjan Dev.
  3. Balwand - 1 vaar (ballad): Balwand played drums in the court of Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, and Guru Arjan Dev.
  4. Baba Sunder - 1 shabad: Baba Sunder, the great grandson of Third Guru Amar Das, composed a hymn titled ‘Sadd’ by request of Guru Arjan Dev following the death of his father, Fourth Guru Ram Das.

Sikh Guru Authors
  1. First Guru Nanak Dev - 974 shabads and saloks
  2. Second Guru Angad Dev - 62 saloks
  3. Third Guru Amar Das - 907 shabads and saloks
  4. Fourth Guru Ram Das - 679 shabads and saloks
  5. Fifth Guru Arjan Dev - 2,218 shabads and saloks
  6. Ninth Guru Tegh Bahadur - 59 shabads and 56 saloks
  7. Tenth Guru Gobind Singh - 1 salok

Bhagat Authors
  1. Bhagat Beni - 3 shabads
  2. Bhagat Bhikan - 2 shabads
  3. Bhagat Dhanna - 4 shabads
  4. Bhagat Farid - 4 shabads and 130 saloks
  5. Bhagat Jaidev - 2 shabads
  6. Bhagat Kabir - 292 shabads
  7. Bhagat Namdev - 60 shabads
  8. Bhagat Parmanand - 1 shabad
  9. Bhagat Pipa - 1 shabad
  10. Bhagat Ramanand - 1 shabad
  11. Bhagat Ravi Das - 41 shabads
  12. Bhagat Sadhna - 1 shabad
  13. Bhagat Sain - 1 shabad
  14. Bhagat Surdas - 1 shabad
  15. Bhagat Trilochan - 4 shabads

Bhatt Authors
  1. Bal - 5 swayas
  2. Bhal - 1 swaya
  3. Bhikha - 2 swayas
  4. Das - 1 swaya
  5. Gyand - 5 swayas
  6. Harbans - 2 swayas
  7. Jal* - 1 swaya
  8. Jalan - 2 swayas
  9. Jalap* - 4 swayas
  10. Kal* - 49 swayas
  11. Kalshar* - 4 swayas
  12. Kirat - 8 swayas
  13. Mathura - 10 swayas
  14. Nal - 6 swayas
  15. Sal - 3 swayas
  16. Sewak - 7 swayas
  17. Tal - 1 swaya
*Because of similar names and obscure records, some historians believe there were as few as 11, or as many as 19 Bhatts, who contributed to compositions included in Guru Granth Sahib.

THE SECTIONS

The structure of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib can be divided into three sections: pre-raag section, raag section, and post-raag section.


THE PRE-RAAG (RAGA) SECTION

In the pre-raag section (ang 1-13), pride of place is given to the sacred poetry of ‘Jap’ (ang 1-8) (commonly known as ‘Japji’), a composition of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It commences with philosophically dense ideas in Mool Mantar (ang 1), considered the basis of Sikh theology. ‘Jap’ comprises 38 pauris (stanzas), and the salok as the final verse.

After the ‘Jap’, the hymn of the evening prayer now referred to as ‘Rahiras’ (ang 8-12) is scripted in two parts: ‘So Dar’, comprising 5 shabads, followed by ‘So Purakh’, comprising 4 shabads. After this we come to the bedtime lullaby of ‘Kirtan Sohila’ (ang 12-13), which consists of 5 shabads.


THE RAAG (RAGA) SECTION

The second section of Siri Guru Granth Sahib is the raag section (ang 14-1353), ordered principally on the basis of each composition’s raag. This gives the structural formation of the content of Guru Granth Sahib wonderful aesthetic value.

Each raag invokes specific feelings to create a distinct mood in music. The use of raag to engage the listener emotionally increases the delivery power of shabad, as the raag not only complements but also elevates the overall message of the Kirtan. The importance of acknowledging and applying the emotions of the specified raag is vast in order to understand the context and true meaning of each shabad. The raag acts as a medium in which to grasp the mood in which we are to receive the divine message. Without applying the raag, the shabad could be manipulated to produce various meanings, which would be unjust to its original purpose.

“Among all ragas, that one is sublime, O Siblings of Destiny, by which God comes to abide in the mind.” Accordingly, only a shabad’s prescribed raag creates the correct atmosphere for singing the Kirtan.

The compiled material in each raag is organised by meter: shabads, such as chaupadas (quatrains) and astpadis (octets), followed by chhants (six-line lyrics), then vaars (long narrative ballads consisting of pauris (stanzas) and saloks (a freer verse form)) and, finally, poems by Bhagats. Within each meter, the compositions are further ordered on the basis of the author. After the Gurus’ compositions (these are arranged in order of their succession of Guruship and with the term Mahalla/Mhala), the works of the Bhagats are set out, with Kabir given the principal place. The names of the Bhagats and saints are given with their compositions.

Within a single author’s content, the final ordering is based upon the ghars allocated to shabads – where the title’s inclusion of a numbered ‘ghar’ is an instruction that a specific emotional tone (shrutti) should be applied to the whole composition. There are 17 ghars; they appear in numerical order from Ghar 1 to Ghar 17.


THE POST- RAAG (RAGA) SECTION

The post-raag section (ang 1353-1430) contains saloks, swayas and other compositions. At the close (ang 1429) is ‘Mundavani’ (seal) to mark the end of the poetry of Siri Guru Granth Sahib, so that no spurious compositions can thereafter be added, followed by a salok of Guru Arjan Dev Ji to give thanks for the successful completion of the great task by Divine grace. At the end of the post-raag section is the ‘Raagmala’ (Ragamala) (ang 1429-1430).