History and Composition of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib

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Part 1 of Chapter 3 of Victory and Virtue

Through his Hymns and Prayers, Guru Nanak inspired and uplifted humankind to live a life of truth, righteousness and spirituality. These enlightening words were sung by his companions, Bala and Mardana, and by the Sangats which grew up around Guru Nanak. In his later years, at Kartarpur, it became customary for the members of the Sikh community to sing certain hymns on a daily basis: Japji in the morning; So Dar and So Purakh, the beginnings of Rehiras, in the evenings.
Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das all composed Shabads, and the Sikhs began to collect these in books called Pothis. Chanting these Shabads, the Sikhs became vehicles for the vibrations of this Divine sound current and they achieved a state of higher consciousness, a transcendent meditative union with God and Guru.
Early in Sikh history, however, there were malcontents and pretenders to this Throne of Spirituality. The elder brother of Guru Arjan, Prithia, composed his own hymns and passed them off as writings of Guru Nanak. There were many different collections of Shabads and many differing versions of the same Shabads. Guru Arjan realized that a standardized, authenticated collection of the Guru’s Bani was needed to preserve the integrity of the Shabad.

The most complete collection of Shabads of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and Guru Amar Das was in the possession of Mohan, a son of Guru Amar Das. Guru Arjan sent Bhai Gur Das to Mohan’s home in Goindwal, to request this collection of Shabads. Mohan felt slighted at having been passed over for Guruship—his father, Guru Amar Das, had seen the Divine Light in Guru Ram Das and had bestowed the Guruship upon him. Mohan refused to answer the door when Bhai Gur Das knocked and Bhai Gur Das returned to Guru Arjan empty-handed.

Guru Arjan then sent Bhai Buddha to Mohan’s house. Bhai Buddha was by then a very old and respected man in the Sikh community, having been a disciple of all the Gurus, from Guru Nanak through Guru Arjan. When Mohan did not answer Bhai Buddha’s knock, he entered the house anyway. Inside, he found Mohan in a deep meditative trance. Mohan’s younger brother convinced BBhai Buddha not to disturb him and Bhai Buddha also returned to Guru Arjan empty-handed.

So it was that in 1603, Guru Arjan found it necessary to proceed himself to Mohan’s house to retrieve the Shabads. When Guru Arjan approached his house, he called out in a sweet voice, but there was no response. The Guru sat upon his doorstep and began to sing,

“Oh, Mohan, your mansion is so lofty, there is no other place like yours.

Oh, Mohan, even the Saints adorn the door of your temple.

Show compassion and kindness, Oh Kind Lord—be merciful to the poor.

Says Nanak, I am thirsting for the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan. Grant me this gift and I shall be happy.”

Mohan is a name of God, calling upon Him as the Beloved. When Guru Arjan sang this Hymn, he was singing the Praises of God, in the form of a song, to win Mohan’s heart. Mohan threw open the window and called out to Guru Arjan, “You stole the Guruship from my family, and now you come to steal what remains of my heritage!”

Guru Arjan responded with sweet words,

“Oh Mohan, your words are like no others and your behavior is exemplary.

Oh Mohan, you believe in the One God and treat all others as garbage.

Says Nanak, please preserve my honor – all your servants seek Your Sanctuary.”

Mohan grumbled and protested, muttering about his claim to the Shabads. But finally, he came down and sat by Guru Arjan, as the Guru continued to sing:

“Oh Mohan, the Sadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, meditates upon You and yearns to obtain the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan.

Oh Mohan, at the very last moment of life, death shall not approach You.

All who worship You in thought, word and deed shall obtain Your Gifts.

Even the impure, the stupid and the foolish obtain Divine Knowledge upon seeing You.

Says Nanak, Oh God, You are present within all. You are above all.”

Gazing upon Guru Arjan’s enlightened face, feeling the love and radiance emanating from him, hearing the sweet words of love and humility, Mohan’s heart was softened and opened at last. He acknowledged Guru Arjan’s true place upon the throne of Guru Nanak and gave all of the Shabads in his possession to Guru Arjan.

Guru Arjan then set to compile the Shabads into a single volume, the Adi Granth. He sifted through the Shabads, which had been passed down from the first four Gurus and filtered out those which had been added by imposters. Bhai Gur Das was the scribe who recorded the words of Guru Arjan. When he asked Guru Arjan how he could distinguish between the true and the false Shabads, Guru Arjan replied,

“Even in a great herd of cows and calves, the mother cow will recognize the cry of her calf, above all others. Just so, the True Shabad resonates truly and is easily distinguished from the false.”

Guru Arjan added a great many of his own Shabads to those of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das and Guru Ram Das. He also added Shabads of thirty-six Hindu and Muslim Saints, among them Kabir, Ravi Das, Naam Dev, Trilochan and Sheikh Farid. This was the first time any religion incorporated the works of sincere devotees of other religions into its own scripture.  It reflects the universality of thought, which underlies the Sikh belief in One God, and the one family of humanity as children of God.

Guru Arjan left some blank pages in the Granth. When Bhai Gur Das asked the purpose of this, he answered that one of the Gurus to follow him would add the Shabads in their proper place at the proper time. Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth manifestation of the Guru’s Light, added these Shabads and completed the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

The Adi Granth was completed in 1604 and installed in the Golden Temple. Baba Buddha was appointed Guru Granthi. Guru Arjan told his Sikhs that the Adi Granth was the embodiment of the Guru and should be treated with all the respect accorded to himself. When Guru Arjan first completed the Adi Granth, he placed it upon his own bed and slept on the floor.

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last of the Sikh Gurus to take human form, dictated the entire Granth Sahib at Damdama Sahib. Dhir Mal, the son of Baba Gurditta and grandson of Guru Hargobind, had taken possession of the Adi Granth. He refused to give it to Guru Gobind Singh when the Guru asked for it. Dhir Mal taunted the Guru, “If you are a Guru, then prepare your own.” Guru Gobind Singh proceeded to dictate it to Bhai Mani Singh, who recorded it. While some have questioned the authenticity of this story, it is well for us to remember that, of course, Guru Gobind Singh was no ordinary person at all. And, in the old days of bards and story-tellers, it was not unusual for them to recite from memory entire epic poems, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Guru Gobind Singh included the Shabads of his father, Guru Teg Bahadur, but he did not include his own Shabads.  Instead, he placed them in a separate Granth, the Dasam Granth. The Dasam Granth is not revered as Guru, however.

Guru Gobind Singh installed the Siri Guru Granth Sahib as Guru on October 30, l706. This day is celebrated today as Guru Gaddi Day. At the time of his death, he declared that the Word of God, embodied in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, was to be Guru for all time. He said,

“O Beloved Khalsa, let any who desire to behold me, behold the Guru Granth. Obey the Granth Sahib, for it is the visible body of the Guru. Let any who desire to meet me, diligently search its Bani.”

Thus, the Word of God, which has manifested as Guru in Nanak, and had passed through the ten incarnations of Guru, was now returned to its form as the Word, the Bani, the Shabad.

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