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Guru Arjan Dev Ji's Ramkali Hymn

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by Neutral Singh, Nov 2, 2004.

  1. Neutral Singh

    Neutral Singh
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    Jun 1, 2004
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    by Dr. Pashaura Singh

    One of the main issues that has drawn scholarly attention in Kartarpur-Banno
    debate is related to a hymn by Guru Arjan in Ramakali mode. A single couplet
    stands recorded in the version of the Adi Granth after chhant 4, before Guru
    composition on the six seasons (ruti) of the Indian calendar. 1n order to
    address the incomplete nature of this hymn, W.H. Mcleod argues that there should
    apparently be a complete hymn in section assigned to the longer chhant
    compositions. The organization of hymns in this section indicates that the
    couplet must be either the first two lines of a chhant, or a shalok introducing
    a chhanD The academic issue raised by McLeod drew a great many polemic
    responses from Sikh scholars, which generated more heat than light on the
    Kartarpur-Banno debate.

    It is important to note that only two lines of this hymn are to note that two
    lines of this hymn are to be found in the manuscripts of both the Kartarpur and
    the Lahore traditions. Even in the Kanpur manuscript (1642), which claimed to
    be the first copy of the Adi bir prepared by Bhai Banno (and hence popularly
    known as Banno bir), the additional twenty two lines of the hymn were added
    later in a smaller hand.

    One can argue that the scribe had originally written a single couplet since the
    remainder of the hymn was not available at that time. When additional portion
    became available, he completed the hymn in Banno version of the Adi Granth. This
    explanation may be supported by the scribal practice of writing the opening
    verse first completing the text later. But this simple explanation does not
    solve the textual puzzle. I shall argue that the completion of this hymn was
    intentionally done at a time when the volume was converted into the Banno text.

    In order to understand the problem of the Banno recension, we must examine Guru
    Arjan's Ramakali hymn in its original context. In folio 703/1 of the
    Kartarpur'manuscript the two lines read as follows:

    Raga Ramakali Mahala 5

    ran jhunjjhanara gau sakhi hari ek dhiavahu// satgur tum sev sakhi mani
    chindiara phalu pavahu/ /

    Ramakali Mahala 5

    Sing the trilling tunes in the [dance]-field, my sister-friends, by meditating
    on the one lord. By serving the true Guru, my sister-friends, accomplish your
    heart's desires.

    The opening words, ran jhunjjhanara (trilling tunes [sung in the dance]-field),
    indicate a wedding scene at which Punjabi girls were accustomed to gather
    together in a circle to sing wedding songs. Guru Arjan may have uttered these
    aphoristic sayings on the happy occasion of a marriage, intending that these be
    developed into a complete hymn later. As the opportunity for its completion
    never came, only two lines, followed by a blank space, stand recorded in the
    Kartarpur manuscript. Because there is no mention of this hymn in the index of
    this volume, and because the entry of the couplet (though made by the same
    scribe) was done with a different pen, we may conclude that the couplet was
    introduced some time after the compilation of the Adi Granth in 1604 and before
    Guru Arjan's death in 1606. This is also confirmed by the fact that this couplet
    (or complete hymn) is not to be found in an earlier Sikh scriptural tradition,
    popularly known as MS 1245 preserved at the Guru Nanak Dev University library.

    The complete hymn, along with the additional lines, is to be found in the Banno
    version of the Adi Granth. It reads as follows:

    The lord says Nanak, the journey [of life] has borne fruit through contemplation
    of the person of the true Guru. (1) By collecting the nectar like food the whole
    family was called [into the Guru's presence)- Let immortal divine Name be
    distributed (vandiahu) to all so that every one is completely satisfied. The
    true Guru made the distribution [of the divine name] to everyone while sitting
    [on the throne] and all were blessed with the gift of love. Everyone received a
    share (vand) according to his destiny, and no one went empty-handed [from the
    house of the Guru]. The whole Sikh sangat gathered together [in the Guru's
    presence] and each person was absorbed in great joy. Says Nanak, 'By seeking the
    lord's protection I have attained all comforts: (2) All the rites (riti) Were
    performed by meditating deeply on the lord. The tonsure ceremony (bhaddanu unet)
    was conducted

    by repeating the divine knowledge of the Guru. Repeating the Guru's knowledge
    provided all comforts, and thus the boy was sent to school. The child received a
    perfect education by obeying the lord in his heart. All were feasted
    (Uevanavaru) lavishly at the time of the name-giving cerermOny [of the child],
    and no one went away empty-handed. Nanak the humble servant of God, pleads: 'My
    lord is [my] friend at death (3). The saintly people who gathered together [in
    the Guru's presence] sum that the boy should now be betrothed (mangeva). By good
    fortune, those of rectitude and wisdom were found as parents of the bride. Let
    the gift of amrit (divine name) be distributed among all. The mystical state of
    union with the immortal name was attained when the Guru established the divine
    knowledge (in the man) and removed all kinds of suffering. The auspicious
    moment, which was written [by destiny] from the very beginning.. (and the
    marriage was affirmed by the parents of the bride. The lord arranged the
    marriage-party in such a way that all kinds of sages, devotees and godly men
    participated in it. Says Nanak, the task of [marriage] was accomplished and the
    unstruck music sounded forth. (4)

    Evidently, the hymn describes the rituals in the life-cycle of individual in
    Punjabi society in the seventeenth century which included the birth of a male
    child, the name-giving ceremony, the puberty rite, the first admission in a
    school, the betrothal rite and the marriage ceremony. A further symbolic meaning
    gets attached to these rituals since they are used as occasions for the
    distribution of the gift of amrit (the divine name) among the devotees of the

    The real issue, however, is related to the authorship of the Banno hymn. Did
    Guru Arjan compose the Ramakali hymn? If he did do so, who else could have been
    responsible for completing hymn, and why? To find answers to these questions, we
    must examine the poetic style of this hymn and other linguistic features with
    reference to other works of Guru Arjan. This method of enquiry reveals the
    following significant points.

    The fourth line in the first stanza (sat guru sachai bheji dia char jivan vaddu
    pu_nnia, the true Guru has sent the long-lived child to enjoy great fortune)
    alludes to the opening lines of Guru Arjan's hymn in Asa raga, which he composed
    to celebrate the birth of his only child, Hargobind, the sixth Guru: The true
    Guru has sent the child. The long lived child has been born by destiny (sat guru
    sachai dia bheji// chir jivan upajia sanjogi). This allusion has been largely
    responsible for the assumption that the Banno hymn concerns the life-cycle
    rituals relating to Guru Hargobind's early life. For instance, G.B. Singh's
    manuscript note on the copy of a Banno recension in the India Office Library
    reads: The hymn (chhant) about the early life of the sixth Guru is given
    complete[ly] (24 lines); and not only Jhe first two lines. It is important to
    note, however, that apart from this indirect association, there is no explicit
    reference to the sixth Guru in the text itself. Rather, the author of the Banno
    hymn employs the metaphor of a unique son (anup balak) as a poetic convention to
    describe the life-cycle rituals of Punjabi society in general.

    Secondly, there are certain linguistic expressions in the hymn which cannot be
    the work of Guru Arjan. For instance, for him to have used the phrase satgur
    bahi kai vand kini (the true Guru made the distribution while sitting) for
    himself is totally alien to the humble nature of Guru Arjan.132 He never
    directly refers to himself as the true Guru in his compositions. The hymn was
    definitely composed by a scribe who was highly motivated by the idea of
    completing the incomplete text in the name of the Guru. A recent example of a
    somewhat similar sort may be seen in Jodh Singh's addition of his own
    interpretation to his description of the Kartarpur bir to solve the textual
    problem of this hymn. His note on the description of folio 703/1 reads as

    Raga Ra.makali Mahala 5 Salok

    ran jhunjjhanara gau sakhi hari ekdhiavahu// satgur turn sev salmi: chindiara
    phalu pavahu//l//133

    The word salok in the title and the numeral 1 at the end of the couplet do not
    occur in the original text of the Kartarpur volume. This is an example of making
    an incomplete text look like a complete text. Further, there are other examples
    in the Adi Granth where gurus employ single-line aphoristic sayings instead of
    shaloks. These single lines may be seen in the section assigned to Gurus'
    shaloks, surplus to the vars.

    Thirdly, the most significant point is that Guru Arjan never employed such words
    as vand (distribution) or vandiahu (distribute!) anywhere in his compositions in
    the Adi Granth. These words did not form part of his usual lexicon. This fact
    alone makes improbable his authorship of the additional material of the hymn.
    Similarly, other words such as riti (rites), bhaddanu unetu (the tonsure rite),
    jevanavaru (the ritual feast associated with the sacred thread ceremony),
    namukaran (the name-giving ceremony) and mangeva ('the betrothal rite') only
    appear in the Banno version the Adi Granth in this disputed hymn. Thus they were
    intentionally employed to give legitimacy to brahminical rituals in Sikh
    society, which were otherwise strongly repudiated by the Sikh Gurus,
    particularly by Guru Arjan himself. On a number of occasions Guru Nanak
    criticized the sacred thread (Uaneu), and other rituals associated with death
    (like pind, patal, kina, and diva). Guru Arjan referred to the celebration of
    Guru Hargobind's birth by the sangat in form of the singing of gurbani,
    particularly the Ramakali Anandu of Guru Amar Das (gurbani sakhi anandu
    gavai).138 Evidently this later tradition was the one in vogue among Sikhs at
    that time.

    Fourthly, it is the fifth Guru who, like Guru Nanak, criticizes both Hindu and
    Muslim beliefs, practices and texts. In 0ne of his comments on Kabir's hymns, he
    explicitly says: 'We are neither Hindus, nor Musalman". He further states that
    he has settled the difference between Hindu and Muslim (as Kabir did), not by
    working out some kind of synthesis of the two, nor by keeping the observances of
    both, such as fasts, pilgrimage, prayers and worship, but by cultivating the
    remembrance of Akal Purakh within the heart. Although there is no direct
    reference to life-cycle rituals as such, it is implied in the general category
    of Hindu practices. One can then raise the question as to how Guru Arjan could
    have been the author of such a hymn, which sanctifies Hindu rituals, when he
    himself was a strong critic of them. It is much more likely that the real the
    author of the extra material in the Ramakali hymn was a person who was under a
    strong brahminical influence. In this context Piar Singh has suggested that
    either a bhat (bard) or a brahmin family priest) composed this hymn on the
    occasion of the marriage to receive jajamani (gift or stipend) from his parents.
    This hymn, he argues, became current under the signatures of Nanak and was then
    incorporated into the Banno version of Adi Granth. Gurinder Mann, on the other
    hand, unconvincingly uses the argument of signatures to prove Guru Arjan's
    authorship of this hymn. Two signatures binvanti nanak (Nanak begs) and the janu
    kahai nanak (Nanak the servant says) that appear in this hymn, also appear in
    certain hymns of Guru Arjan. But this sole convention cannot be used to
    attribute the hymn to the fifth Guru. It sems likely that anybody (a pandit or a
    bhat) could have picked up such expressions and composed the hymn in the name of
    Guru Arjan.

    Fifthly, the poetic style of the hymn is flattering and plodding, unlike what we
    encounter in the authentic bani of Guru Arjan. In the first two lines following
    the original couplet, for instance, one can easily sense how the author is at
    pains to create a tortured rhyme Uammia/punnia), and similar is the case with
    the last two lines of the hymn (sura/tUra). The use of the clumsy phrase
    charjivan in contrast to Guru Arjan's chir jivan is another indication that the
    author of the additional part was not a good poet. More importantly it is
    lacking in the structural unity that is usually achieved by Guru Arjan in his
    hymns. The overall tone of reading in the original scarcely matches the rhythmic
    beauty of Guru Arjan's poetic style.

    Finally, the theory of the origin of the Banno recension (that I have discussed
    in detail in my doctoral work) needs to be further qualified in view of the
    above analysis. The issue of brahminical influence must be considered in the
    union of Hindali, Udasi and Bhatra interests. This Banno interest group, it
    seems, had a hidden agenda to arrest the process of crystallization of the Sikh
    tradition. Whereas the elite group of the Panth had developed a strong sense of
    distinctive identity, a large body of believers was still following brahminical
    traditions. The Banno group had started to exert its influence within the Panth
    inthe area of Khara Mangat in Gujrat district, while the main centre of Sikh
    activities under Guru Hargobind had already shifted to Kiratpur. Even the
    Amritsar area was under the control of Minas, Prithichand's descendants, and
    their followers. This was a time when apocryphal literature was proliferating
    under brahminical influence. This is evident from a manuscript containing the
    text Sukhamani Sahansarnama written by Miharban's successor under the symbol of
    mahalu 8 in 1646 (sambat 1703 manghar sudi 1). This composition is based on the
    model of Guru Arjan's Sukhamani and praises the Vaishnava avatars and other
    figures from Hindu mythology. It clearly indicates that the process of
    Hinduization of Sikh tradition had already begun. It was during this period that
    the Banno bir was copied from the original volume in 1642, although the
    additional material was interpolated into it some time later. This was an
    intentional tampering with the Adi Granth text, which was done to legitimize the
    Hindu life-cycle rituals in the Sikh community by putting words into the mouth
    of Guru Arjan.

    In the light of the textual analysis of the Ramakali hymn let us examine W.H.
    McLeod's views on the Kartarpur-Banno debate . The following excerpts from his
    article may prove useful in our analysis:

    The nature of these points as recorded in the Banno version suggests an obvious
    reason for their deletion from the Kartarpur manuscript. They incorporate
    concepts which would be unacceptable in the light of later Khalsa ideals. This
    particularly applies to a Ramakali hymn attrivuted to Guru Arjan which, in its
    Banno form, refers to the shaving of child Hargobind's head....

    If the additional portions supplied by Banno version correspond to deletions in
    the Kartarpur manuscript there could conceivably be justification for concluding
    that Banno represents an earlier recension than Kartapur ..

    Let it not be supposed that at this stage I am arguing this case as one which I
    am personally prepared to affirm. This I am certainly not prepared to do....

    There is thus no suggestion that the Kartarpur claims are on the brink of
    refutation. The point which I am endeavouring to make is simply that we need a
    sustained campaign of textual analysis if we are to establish a sure and certain

    Here Mcleod argues that the Khalsa ideals could have provided' motive for the
    deletion (though upon close examination we now know that there is no actual
    deletion) of the additional portions of the Ramakali hymn in the Kartarpur
    manuscript. I have personally examined folio 703/1 of the Kartarpur manuscript
    and can affirm that while there is a blank space of more than two folios after
    the opening verse of the Ramakali hymn, there is no evidence of any erasure or
    any other kind of deletion. If there were such a deletion, it would support the
    claim that the Banno text may actually represent an earlier recension than the
    Kartarpur text.

    Thus McLeod's hypothesis is a clear case of retrospective interpretation which
    cannot be convincingly applied to explain seventeenth-century Sikh situation.
    The question of later deletion in this instance cannot be taken seriously since
    there are a number of seventeenth-century manuscripts of the Adi Granth that do
    not contain the extra material of the Banno version. Also, the assumption that
    the hymn is somehow related to the puberty rites of Guru Hargobind cannot be
    sustained. It should be emphasized here, however, that McLeod suspends his final
    judgement on the Kartarpur-Banno issue and, instead, urges that there be a
    sustained campaign of textual analysis to establish a sure and certain text.
    Recently, however, McLeod has revised his position on the issue of Guru Arjan's
    Ramakali hymn.

    In concluding the argument of this section it may be stated that the Ramakali
    hymn, as found in the Kartarpur manuscript, never consisted of more than two
    aphoristic sayings, which may have been uttered by Guru Arjan on the occasion of
    a marriage. These sayings, which stand recorded in the Kartarpur volume, were
    perhaps intended to be developed into a complete hymn later. There is another
    such instance provided by Var Basant in the Adi Granth, which, unlike other vars
    of the Gurus, has only three stanzas.149 According to tradition, when Guru Arjan
    had just completed three stanzas of this var, he was informed by a Sikh that
    langar ('communal meal') was ready. He left the work unfinished and joined the
    congregation for meals. This incomplete composition was recorded in the
    Kartarpur manuscript much later. Unfortunately Guru Arjan was executed by the
    Mughal authorities in 1606, before he could complete these compositions. It is
    my contention that it was the Banno group that completed the Ramakali hymn in
    their version of the Adi Granth in order to legitimize the brahminical
    life-cycle rituals in the Sikh community. This is my answer to the,academic
    question raised in the Kartarpur-Banno debate that has been going on for the
    last two decades.
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  3. Arvind

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    Jul 13, 2004
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    Looking at Guru Granth Sahib ji, Ramkali is written in Mahala 1, 3, 5. I am not sure, why Ramkali talk is limited to Guru Arjan Dev ji only.

    Guru Sahib (page 876): The writings there do mention Nanak. I understand that Guru Arjan mentioned Nanak as a mark of respect during completion of some incomplete writings by guru Nanak.

    But then anand Sahib mentions Ramkali Mahala 3.

    It would have been more appropriate if the discussion were based on comparing which pages on two beers are being talked about. Deos Anyone has idea, to which page of Guru Granth Sahib ji is being compared with Banno beer?

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