By -Dr. Mohinder Singh :While the Adi Granth was prepared by Guru Arjan Dev with Bhai Gurdas acting as its scribe, its origin can be traced to the days of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith. According to popular tradition, on re-emergence after his enlightenment Guru Nanak is said to have recited the Mool Mantra, which is considered to be the primal creed of the Sikh religion. The Mool Mantra is actually the most important concept within the Guru Granth Sahib, and is considered the basis of Sikh theology. This position is further strengthened by its appearance as the foremost composition written in the Granth. In the Japjee, the Guru provided a definition of God, which transcended all religious and political boundaries. Guru Nanak was a divine poet and uttered the Word of God as revealed to him. In the Janamsakhi featuring popular stories about Guru Nanak’s life, there are many instances of the Guru asking his life long companion Bhai Mardana to play on the rabab as bani was descending.
That the hymns uttered by Nanak were recorded in some form in the popular language of the saints of North India is evident from the story about Guru Nanak being asked by the Muslim divines in Mecca to open his book (kitab) and explain as to who was superior, a Hindu or a Muslim? From Bhai Gurdas we learn that the Guru gave an appropriate answer that without good action both were of no consequence. Guru Nanak is believed to have used Bhatakshri for his bani, which was modified and popularised by his successor, Guru Angad, as Gurmukhi, meaning coming from the mouth of the Guru.
From the Puratan Janamsakhi, generally accepted to be the oldest account of Guru Nanak’s life and times, we learn that during his various Udasis, the Guru got some of his hymns written by his companions who accompanied him. There are also instances when some of his devotees acted as scribes for recording the hymns. We learn that Majh ki Var and Sidh Goshat were scribed by Bhai Saido Gheeho, while Malar ki Var was scribed by Guru’s devotees Hassu and Shihan.
Guru Nanak’s hymns not only contain a deep philosophical import but also throw a flood of light on the socio-economic and political life in contemporary society. He provides a vivid account of the political turmoil of the times and also displays the courage to condemn the both rulers for neglecting their duties and the priestly class for abdicating their moral authority. When towards the last phase of his life Guru Nanak settled in a new township called Kartarpur on the banks of river Ravi his hymns, collected and written in a Pothi, began to be regularly sung in the morning and evening devotional services. It was here that the Japjee was completed. And this constituted the nucleus of the Sikh scripture. According to popular tradition Guru Nanak presented a Pothi containing his hymns to his successor Guru Angad while bestowing Guruship on him.
To the corpus of hymns composed by Guru Nanak, Guru Angad added another 62 hymns of his own and passed on this treasure to Guru Amar Das, the third master. Apart from his own contribution, Guru Amar Das also added hymns of some of the bhaktas. While Guru Amar Das, because of his earlier association with devotional bhakti might have collected some of the hymns of the bhaktas, a systematic effort to locate, edit and include these hymns in the Adi Granth was made by Guru Arjan Dev.
The growing popularity of the Sikh faith and a constant increase in the number of its followers led to clever and opportunistic people like Prithi Chand, popularising their writings under the pen name of Nanak. Prithi Chand, whom his father, Guru Ramdas, rejected for Guruship was indulging in intrigues to defame the house of the Guru, adulteration of the bani being one of them. Therefore, it became important for Guru Arjan Dev to codify the genuine hymns and present them to the community of followers in an authorised and authenticated form. It was this urge, which led to Guru Arjan Dev formally taking up the work of compilation of the Adi Granth.
In view of the widespread reach of the Sikh faith and a volume being prepared by Guru Arjan, some other bhaktas, also approached the Guru to include their hymns in this scripture. Since their compositions supported those value systems which were not in tune with those of the Sikh Gurus, their compositions were eventually not approved for inclusion.
Guru Arjan painstakingly collected selections from the writings of Hindu and Muslim saints who were at the same spiritual wavelength as the Sikh Gurus. In this process, he was able to procure hymns of Kabir, Farid, Namdev, Ravidas and Bhikhan.
Since the bani of Guru Nanak and his predecessors was available in the collection of Baba Mohan, popularly known as Mohan Pothian, Guru Arjan sent Bhai Gurdas, who was a close relative of Baba Mohan to secure it. However, Baba Mohan did not part with the pothian and Baba Buddha was subsequently sent on the mission, who also returned disappointed. Thereafter, Guru Arjan Dev himself went to Baba Mohan’s house. While Baba Mohan was sitting in the attic of his house in Goindwal, the Guru started singing melodious hymns from the ground floor. The humility of the Guru greatly moved Baba Mohan and he agreed to pass on the Pothis to the Guru, which was ultimately brought to Ramsar in a palanquin for use in the propagation of the Granth.
The selected material was arranged and compiled by the Guru according to the ragas. In addition to 31 ragas, we also find a combination of more than one raga as in the case of Gauri Majh, Asa Kaffi, Tilang Kaffi, Suhi Kaffi, Suhi Lalit, Bilaval Gaund, Maru Kaffi, Basant Hindol, Kalyan Bhopali, Prabhati Bibhas and Rag Asavari in Rag Asa. Musical order in the Guru Granth Sahib is different from the Indian classic musical tradition. The Sikh Gurus’ great contribution has not only saved the classical ragas but also prescribed different dhunis and invented instruments for singing shabads in different ragas.
The Guru Granth Sahib comprises of 974 hymns by Guru Nanak, 62 hymns by Guru Angad Dev, 907 hymns by Guru Amar Das, 679 hymns by Guru Ram Das and 116 hymns by Guru Tegh Bahadur. The largest input is from Guru Arjan Dev with having contributed 2,218 hymns. Among the bhaktas, Kabir has contributed the highest number of hymns, their number being 541, with Baba Farid contributing 134 hymns, Bhagat Namdev contributing 60 hymns, Bhagat Ravidas contributing 41 hymns, Bhagat Trilochan writing 4 hymns, Bhagat Baini providing 3 hymns, Bhagat Dhanna contributing 4 hymns, Bhagat Jaidev giving 2 hymns under his name, Bhagat Bhikhan contributing 2 hymns, Bhagat Sain adding one hymn, Bhagat Pipa adding another one hymn, Bhagat Sadna also contributing one hymn, Bhagat Ramanand contributing one hymn, Bhagat Parmanand providing one hymn and Bhagat Surdas contributing 2 hymns under his name. In addition to this, hymns from the 11 Bhatts are also included.
An appropriate culmination of such a stupendous task mandated the availability of undivided concentration in a peaceful and serene environment. The picturesque Ramsar retreat appealed immensely to the Guru due to its tranquil location amidst thick forests and a pond. Along with his two devotees namely Baba Buddha and Bhai Gurdas, the Guru got this place cleaned and erected a tent which became his makeshift camp office for working on the Volume. To ensure that he was not disturbed in his intellectual work, the Guru fixed a daily routine whereby he desired his followers not to meet him in Ramsar but he made himself available for a fixed number of hours at Manji Sahib everyday, where Harimandir was being constructed. It was Guru Arjan’s untiring vision and relentless foresight that he not only compiled and installed the holy Granth but also built the Harimandir Sahib popularly called the Golden Temple at Amritsar, which has since then become the spiritual capital of the Sikhs. When the Volume, then referred to as the Adi Granth, was completed, the Guru asked one of his devotees, Bhai Bano, to carry the Volume to Lahore for binding. According to popular accounts, Bhai Bano was tempted to make a copy of the Volume. Using delaying tactics he got an unauthorised version of the Granth prepared, thereby resulting in some serious omissions and commissions. Thus, when Bhai Bano returned from Lahore he carried two Volumes of the Adi Granth instead of one. The Guru, who declared the unauthorised volume as Khari Bir (the brackish Volume), highly disapproved of this action of Bhai Bano. Since the authorised Volume generally remained in the closed custody of the Sodhis of Kartarpur, the Sikhs made many copies of the unauthorised version the Bano Bir, until Maharaja Ranjit Singh popularised the Kartarpuri version.