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Gurus Guru Nanak "Sahib" Or Guru Nanak "Dev"


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Guru Nanak SAHIB or Guru Nanak DEV

English version from vol. 1 of SIKH HISTORY

Guru Nanak's parents gave him the name NANAK only. Later, the Sikhs added Sahib as suffix, as a mark of respect; while others used Baba as a prefix. Most of the earlier writers, however, preferred using Baba Nanak; Sahib too was a later usage. In the second half of the nineteenth century some Brahmanic writers began using Dev as suffix with Guru Nanak's name; until that no book or manuscript or even any verse had ever used DEV for Guru Nanak Sahib. But, like the usage of 'SRI' in Sikhism, the term DEV was so much popularized by the Brahmin writers that a simple minded person considers Guru Nanak's name as incomplete if it is without the suffix DEV.

An argument was presented that DEV was added because all other Guru-names had two words (i.e. Amar Das, Ram Das, Hargobind, Har Rai, Harkrishan, Tegh Bahadur, Gobind Singh) hence DEV should be added to the names of the other three Gurus also i.e. with Nanak, Angad and Arjan); this is ridiculous logic that names of three Gurus should be changed (adding a new word is ‘changing the original’) so as to make them in the fashion of (or look like) the names of the other seven Gurus. Are these names ‘decoration pieces’ that symmetry has to be established? Why should we not preserve the original names of these three Gurus? Secondly, it is wrong to say that Hargobind, Harkrishan are names with two words; both are one word names. Why don’t they write them as Hargobind Dev and Hakrishan Dev?

Further, the Brahmanic writers suggested that the words DEV appears 100 times and DEO for 56[1] times in Guru Granth Sahib; hence DEV/DEO should be accepted; this too is a strange logic. Similarly, some preachers claim that in one of the verses of Guru Granth Sahib, the name of Guru Arjan Sahib has been mentioned as 'Arjan Dev'; hence his name should be written as Arjan Dev; and, let us add it to the names of the first two Gurus also. Now, let us read the verse by Bhatt poet Mathura:

jap-ya-o jinh arjun, dayv guroo, fir sankat, jon garabh na aa-ya-o.[2]

This line means that “those who remember GuruDev, as per the teachings of Arjan, they do not suffer from the fear of entering womb and bearing the pains of birth again”. Here DEV is a part of Guru (Gurdev) and not as suffix of the name of Guru Arjan Sahib.

It is further interesting that, in Guru Granth Sahib, RAAM and CHAND too appear after the name of Guru Nanak; should we accept Chand/Raam as suffix of Guru's name?

Here is the verse where Raam is referred to as suffix:

sikh-yaa saⁿt, naam bhaj, naanak, raam, raⁿg aatam si-o ra-un.[3]

It means: “Nanak says, (O! man) as per teachings of the God-oriented persons, meditate upon name (of God), let your soul live in love of God”. Here, Raam has been used as one of the names of God and not as a suffix of Guru Nanak.

The verse where Chand is referred as suffix:
parathmay naanak chaⁿd jagat bha-yo aanaⁿd
taaran manukh-y jan kee-a-o pargaas.[4]

This means: First, Nanak is like a moon, seeing him the world delights; to liberate the human beings, he illuminates their ways.

In Guru Granth Sahib, the word Nanak appears more than 5100 times and Nanaki (short sound ‘i’ before K in Nanak), and Nanaku short ‘u’ under K in Nanak) 23 and 50 times respectively; so which spellings should we accept, and what is the basis?

Now let us consider the usage of the word DEO (2 times after the word Nanak) and DEV (3 times after the word Nanak) in the verses of Guru Granth Sahib:

tin ka-o ki-aa updaysee-ai jin gur, naanak, day-o. [5]

This verse means: "Nanak says what sermons can be given to those, who have been blessed (taught) by Guru; hence DEO is a part of Gurdev (gur+dayo)". Similar is the meaning of the word DEO in verse:

bohith, naanak, day-o gur, jis har chaṛaa-ay, tis bha-ojal tarnaa.[6]

It means: Nanak says, “Gurdev (day-o gur) is a boat, whomever God gets to embark it, he will swim across the terrible waters.” Here too DEO (day-o) is a part of Gurdev and not a suffix of Guru Nanak's name.

so vasai it ghar, jis gur pooraa sayv.
abichal nagree, naanak, dayv.[7]

This means: Nanak says, those whom perfect Guru blesses with the service (meditation) of God; his home (heart/mind) becomes (such an abode, i.e. abchal nagri, which is free from vices) where He resides. Here DEV has been used for God and not for Nanak or even Guru/Gurdev.


kabeer dhi-aa-i-o ayk raⁿg.
naam dayv har jee-o baseh saⁿg.
ravidaas dhi-aa-ay parabh anoop.
gur, naanak, dayv goviⁿd roop.[8

[Meaning]: Kabir remembered with single-mind.
(O! God) You dwell with (in the mind of) Namdev.
Ravidas remembered beautiful Master.
Nanak says Gurdev is the image of Govind (God)].

In the second line of this verse, Dayv is a suffix of Namdev, but in fourth line Dayv is a part of Gurdev. Similarly:

kavan kahaan ha-o gun pari-a tayrai.[9]
baran na saaka-o ayk tulayrai.
darsan pi-aas bahuṯ man mayrai.
mil, naanak, dayv jagat gur kayrai.

[Meaning]: I cannot narrate even some of them.
O! my dear, how many of your attributes, I can relate?
In my mind is great thirst to see you.
Nanak says, O Gurdev of the world (i.e. God), please meet me (i.e. come to stay in my mind).

Besides these verses, the words Dev or Deo is found in about 150 verses in Guru Granth Sahib (pp. 108, 155,405, 469, 479, 522, 694, 795-96, 871, 943, 1129, 1142, 1149, 1172-73, 1180, 1183, 1338, 1353, 1389 etc). In all these verses Dev/Deo have been used in the meaning of Waheguru or His light and not as suffix of any name (even of the Gurus).

For example:
kaam krodh ahaⁿkaar binsai, milai satgur dayv.[10]
With this the cupidity, the anger, the ego vanish, and one meets the divine Guru.
mahimaa kahee na jaa-ay, gur samrath dayv.
None can say the praise of all powerful, Gurdev.[11]
ghat ghat suⁿn kaa jaanai bhay-o. aad purakh niraⁿjan day-o.[12]
If one who knows the secret, the void is in all bodies. He is the Primal Purkah, the taintless God.
gur jaisaa naahee ko dayv.
None is light (of knowledge) like Guru.
jis masṯak bhaag so laagaa sayv.[13]
One, for whom He is preordained, he is serving Him.
har simrat kichh chaakh na johai.
Remembering God one’s evil eye will not touch (see) you.
har simrat dait day-o na pohai.[14]
Remembering God, the (fear of) biggest demon (daint day-o i.e., here, deo/biggest/chief among daints) cannot get hold.
raⁿg laagaa at laal dayv.[15]
(I am) in deep red colour (i.e. in deep love) of my God.

Now, in all these verses Deo/Dev has been used for God Waheguru or His light; and at one place it also means 'chief' (e.g. 'daint' and 'day-o' i.e. demons). So Dev/Deo has nothing to do with the name of the Gurus.

In Guru Granth Sahib, there is a ballad by Satta and Balwand which mentions the names of the first five Gurus. They definitely knew the correct names of the Gurus. But they have not used DEV anywhere for any Guru. Bhatt Baani is also a part of Guru Granth Sahib. These Bhatts were court poets of the Guru Sahib. None of them have used DEV for any Guru. Bhai Gurdas, who scribed their verses in the Granth (and Guru Arjan Sahib must have read the final version) they must have knowledge of the names of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and Guru Arjan. If the suffix Dev had been omitted, by Satta-Balwand or the Bhatts, by mistake, Guru Arjan or Bhai Gurdas would have corrected it. So it also proves that Guru Arjan too did not use Dev for any Guru.

Early sources of Guru Nanak's life include Wilayat Wali Janamsakhi, Meharban Wali Janamsakhi, Bhai Bala Wali Janamsakhi, Bhai Mani Singh Wali Janamsakhi (attributed to him), and Puratan Janamsakhi etc. None of these used DEV as suffix of Guru Nanak's name.

The 'ardas', approved by the S.G.P.C. and released from Akal Takht, begins with a stanza from Charitropakhyan (wrongly attributed to Guru Gobind Singh). Under which conspiracy it became a part of the Sikh Ardas during the Mahants' period is not to be debated here, but this 'ardas' too does not use DEV as suffix of the name of any Guru:

pirtham bhagauti simar kay gur nanak layee dhiayei.
phir aⁿgad ṯe gur amardaas, raamdaasay hoyiee sahayei.
arjan hargobiⁿd no, simrau sri harrai...

Again, the writer (it is not Guru Gobind Singh) of the poem Bachitra Natak too mentions the names of all the Gurus but he too does not use DEV with any Guru's name:

Ṯin bedian ki kul bikhayei pragatei nanak Rai.
(The author, however, uses RAI and not DEV. Now, what should we use, as suffix of Guru Nanak’s name, Dev or RAI?

There are a very large number of vaars (ballads) in Punjabi which preserve history of the Guru period. Most of these were written between seventeenth and early nineteenth century. These include:

Raamkali Di Vaar (Satta & Balwand)
Vaar Babe Nanak Ji Ki (Bhai Gurdas)
Karhkhay Patshah Dasven Kay (Sain Singh)
Paurian Guru Gobind Singh Ji Kian (Mir Mushki & Chhabila)
Yudh Guru Gobind Singh Ji Ka (Ani Rai)
Vaar Patshahi Dasvin Ki (unknown writer)
Vaar Bhayrei Ki Patshahi Das (unknown writer)
Vaar Bhangani Ki (unknown writer)
Yudh-Charitra Guru Gobind Singh Ji Ka (Veer Singh Ball)
Vaar Amritsar Ki (Darshan Bhagat)
Vaar Sarb Loh Ki (unknown writer)
Vaar Kalyan Ki (Khushal Chand)

In these vaars, nowhere has DEV been used as suffix to the name of any Guru.

Bhai Gurdas has used the word DEO or DEV in several verses of his vaars e.g. vaar 3 (pauris 2 and 12), vaar 13 (pauri 25), vaar 15 (pauri 2), etc. But in these verses Dev/Deo is not a part of any Guru's name but it means 'manifested'. Further, he has used DEO/DEV in vaar 24 (pauri 25), where the words ‘deo japaiya...’ means ‘the Guru preached meditation in the name of God’ (here DEO means God). In vaar 28 (pauri 11), 'DEV' means 'devta/god' and it is not a suffix of any Guru's name.

Bhai Gurdas's 1st vaar depicts the life and role of the Guru Sahibs and in the whole Vaar the word DEV has not been used even once. In this vaar, pauris 23 to 45 are life story of Guru Nanak Sahib and pauris 45 to 48 are about the lives of Guru Angad to Guru Hargobind Sahib. In these 26 pauris too the word DEV (as suffix) is missing. Does it mean that Bhai Gurdas had written incomplete name of Guru Sahib?

The Bhatt Vahis (by various Bhatts, including Mathra and Keerat, the poets of Guru Granth Sahib) and Panda Vahis (of Hardwar, Pehowa, and Mattan etc) were written during the times of Gur Sahibs. None of the entry-writers of these records used Dev for any Guru.

The Sikh history books written during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries include the works by Sainapati, Koer Singh, Kesar Singh Chhibber, Sawrup Singh Kaushish, Ratan Singh Bhangoo, Sukhbasi Ram Bedi etc. None of these has used DEV as suffix of the name of any Guru. Dev is missing even from the Nirmala writings.

The usage of Dev began with Brahmin writers. The first Sikh to popularize it was Bhai Veer Singh. Though he used Dev but his action was still not followed by serious Sikh scholars. It was only after 1972 that DEV became an epidemic and Guru Nanak Sahib's name was changed into Guru Nanak Dev.

In 1972, Zail Singh became the chief minister of the Punjab. It was he who changed the name of Guru Nanak University Amritsar into Guru Nanak Dev University. Zail Singh was an illiterate person; hence he did not have sufficient knowledge of Sikh history or philosophy; no doubt he had been a ‘ritual-performing priest’ but had never done serious study of Sikhism; hence he did not try to know the real name of Guru Nanak Sahib. Later, he changed even ancient name of Rupar into Rupnagar (he believed it was not RUPAR but RO+PAR which means 'begin weeping'). Later, in 1997-98, chief minister P. S. Badal too followed Zail Singh and changed the name of Guru Nanak Thermal Plant Bathinda to ‘Guru Nanak Dev Thermal Plant’.

Later, Guru Arjan Sahib and lastly Guru Angad Sahib's names too were chnaged first by the Brahmin writers and then by novice Sikh writers, and finally by the ignorant Sikh leaders who popularized DEV as suffix of the name of Guru Angad Sahib. (Especially, Manjit Singh Calcutta, the Secretary of the SGPC in 2004, played a major role, under the influence of a semi-educated employee of the SGPC). This practice was followed by common folk. Only intelligent Sikhs continued writing real name of Guru Nanak, Guru Angad and Guru Arjan Sahib. (Great are the leaders of the Sikh nation!).

There is a saying of Gurbani:

aⁿdhaa aagoo jay thee-ai ki-o paadhar jaaṇai.
aap musai mat hochhee-ai ki-o raahu pachhaaṇai.
(Guru Granth Sahib, p.767)

[Meaning]: If the blind becomes a leader, how can he show the way?
He Himself is cheated, because of his hollow wisdom. How can he identify the way (i.e. how can he lead?).

[1] Different persons have given different totals.
[2] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1409
[3] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1387.
[4] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1399.
[5] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 150
[6] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1102
[7] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 430
[8] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1192
[9] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1304
[10] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 405
[11] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 522
[12] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 943
[13] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1142
[14] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1150
[15] Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1180

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