Granth (Adi Granth, Guru Granth) Arjan Dev

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Granth (Adi Granth, Guru Granth) Arjan Dev

Granth (Adi Granth, Guru Granth) Arjan Dev (1604)

The Sikh scripture, the Granth (Book)—also called the Adi Granth (First Book) and Guru Granth (Holy Book)—provides literary evidence of an attempt to syncretize Hinduism with Islam in the Punjab. The anthology, a collection of 6,000 texts, took shape as the Mughal Empire spread from Pakistan to India and established territories as far north as Turkey and Mongolia. The finished book combines CREATION LORE; evensongs; FABLES, verses; sermons; and WISDOM LITERATURE derived from missionary writings, Sufi mysticism, and hagiography in a variety of languages and dialects, including Arabic, Braj, Hindi, Marathi, Persian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, and Sindhi. The collection and its contributors cover centuries of Asian history. The legendary Namdev (1272-1350), a Hindu bard and wonder worker of Maharastra, India, amassed thousands of messianic songs that scandalized Brahmans. The wandering Tamil evangelist Ramanand (ca. 1400-1470) preached a one-world concept that welcomed females and slaves to his fold and revered God by the names Allah, Brahma, Hari, Lakshmi, Mohan, Ram, Sahib, Siv, and Vishnu. The saintly Ravi Das (Ravidas, 1376-1410) of Uttar Pradesh, India, joined Ramanand's circle and wrote devotional ragas (hymns) encouraging human fellowship in the style of the Zoroastrian AVESTA (ca. A.D. 530).

At a crucial shift in Sikh philosophy, the holy poet and seer Kabir (1398-1518) pressed for the merger of Hinduism and Islam. With 243 religious stanzas, he approached the mysticism of the Buddhist KOANS by exhorting the seeker of truth to consider states of being that merge with godhood and formlessness. The first Sikh guru, Nanak (1469-1539), a Pakistani miller and Vedic prodigy, anchored his text to the Sikh purpose by hybridizing Hindu-Muslim anthems and psalms that encourage penitence, pacifism, charity, and humility. In one brief aphorism, he inquires with a rhetorical question why people cultivate the illusion of permanence: “Like a dream and play consider the world! In these there is no reality without the Lord… . Why dost thou entertain false conceit; know, the world is like a dream. Among these things nothing is thine” (Adi Granth 1877, 707). His influence spread from

Baghdad and Mecca to Assam, Basra, China, Sri Lanka, and Tamil Nadu. A contemporary, the blind epic poet Surdas (1479-1586), honored Krishna by contributing stories of the god's boyhood and by urging conversion to the true Sikh god.

A Complete Holy Book

After the Sikh faith took hold in Kartarpur, Pakistan, Guru Angad (1504-52) systemized Nanak's writings in the Punjabi alphabet. To the early ethical axioms on sanctity and human liberation, Angad added 869 liturgical works celebrating births, child namings, cremations, and funerals. Under Angad's direction, the faith took on an individual style, based on monotheism. He begged his teacher, “O Guru! let me know the One!” (3). His follower, the missionary Amar Das (14791574), of Amritsar, Punjab, exercised his faith in a communal feeding center that welcomed people from all social and economic levels, including the emperor Akbar (Akbar the Great, 1542-1605), a devotee of tolerance and syncretic faith who dined with street sweepers and beggars. As the scriptural collection reached its completion, Guru Ram Das (1534-81), a utopist from Lahore, Pakistan, added 679 worship songs. He and his son Arjan Dev (1563-1606) centered Sikhist instruction in Amritsar, a holy city. Ram Das's influence on Sikh liturgy includes chants for ritual bathing and for the Lavan nuptial rite, which directs a procession around the Granth to the singing of a verse extolling a peaceful family life.

In 1604, during the last months of Mughal tolerance, Arjan Dev recorded the original Sikh canon in two volumes. Like the paeans of whirling dervishes, his CREATION lyrics and psalms impart rhapsodic immersion in the Almighty: “O fascinating one! high are thy mansions, infinite thy palaces. O fascinating one! thy gates are beautiful. O Lord! the almshouse of the saints” (356). The rhetorical grace parallels David's Psalm 84:1-2: “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” In the months following the death of Akbar the Great on October 27, 1605, Arjan suffered imprisonment and torture in flames under orders of Akbar's son Jahangir for refusing to rewrite the Granth to orthodox Muslim or Hindu specifications.

In 1704, Gobind Singh (1666-1708) of Patna, India, an anti-Mughal soldier and lawgiver, provided an addendum of 59 hymns by his father Tegh Bahadur (1621-75), whom the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had chained in an iron cage in Delhi and martyred with decapitation. Under threat of imperial brutality, Tegh speaks in otherworldly call-and- response his reliance on God: “By whom all worldly concerns are given up and who has taken the garb of retirement from the world” (706). He acquiesces to a greater power: “My strength is exhausted, fetters have fallen on me, there is no expedience whatever” (708). Gobind Singh, determined to overthrow Muslim power and avenge his father, wrote like a military man: “Strength is afforded, the fetters are loosened, everything becomes an expedient. Everything is in thy hand, even thou art thy own helper” (708). After Singh completed the holy book under the title of Guru Granth Sahib (Lord Book, 1708), he fought Mughal oppression, losing four sons while fighting 20 battles in 1705 against Muslim proselytizers. Singh himself, banished from the Punjab, died in combat in what is now Pakistan, before the full assimilation of Sikhism in India.

Following the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent, the new imperialists returned Singh's copy of the Granth to Arjan Dev's descendants at Lahore, Pakistan in 1849. The effort of immigration throughout the empire stimulated the Sikh diaspora and weakened hopes for a Sikh state.


The Adi Granth, or, The Holy Scriptures of the Sikhs.

Translated by Ernst Trumpp. London: Great Britain India Office, 1877.

Dass, Nirmal. Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth.

Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Mann, Gurinder Singh. The Making of Sikh Scripture.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.