Misinterpretation of Guru Nanak’s Teachings, Part 2
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A note on fonts: Fonts in the original document from Global Sikh Studies are not reproducible as Gurmukhi fonts, most likely because the site is using machine code, because at one time it was the only way to generate Gurmukhi fonts that were compatible with fonts stored on most DOS platforms. However, no one can read it, without going back and pasting in one's font of choice. The original document that is reproduced here does not use Gurmukhi fonts, and therefore one will have to work with Dr. Baldev Singh's original English translations.
Contrary to Professor W. H. McLeod’s interpretation of Guru Nanak’s teachings, the concepts of hell and heaven and salvation “after physical death” are rejected in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib (AGGS). His interpretation of the fate of a manmukh and his assertion that Guru Nanak did not provide any solution to the predicament of a manmukh is not supported by AGGS. His acceptance of the traditional name and interpretation of the opening verse of AGGS is in conflict with AGGS. His labelling of bhagats as sants and that Guru Nanak belonged the sant tradition is not supported by AGGS. Moreover, contrary to his interpretation, the main thrust of Nankian philosophy (teachings of Guru Nanak, Gurmat) is the uplift of mankind.
In an earlier communication I have pointed out that McLeod’s assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the theory of transmigration based on karma is not consistent with Nankian philosophy.1 As a result of this assumption he has misinterpreted gurbani (sacred hymns of AGGS).2 This article deals with other statements, assumptions and interpretations of gurbani in Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion.3
Before discussing McLeod’s work, let me point out some of the difficulties in the proper interpretation of gurbani and suggest some guidelines to avoid them. There are four main difficulties in the proper understanding of AGGS.
First, it is the complexity of the language of AGGS. In this respect, Macauliffe who translated portions of AGGS about a century ago made a very insightful observation. “ The languages in which the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Parsi religion and Confucianism are enshrined, though all difficult, are for the most part homogeneous, but not so the mediaeval Indian dialects in which the sacred writings of the Sikh Gurus and saints were composed. Hymns are found in Persian, mediaeval Prakrit, Hindi, Marathi, old Punjabi, Multani and several local dialects. In several hymns the Sanskrit and Arabic vocabularies are freely drawn upon. Moreover, there are words in the Sikh sacred writings which are peculiar to them, and cannot be traced to any known language.”4
Second, there are many references to the religious terminology of other religions in the AGGS. That’s why readers often misinterpret AGGS when they come across references to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Muslim religious terminology.
Third, AGGS is written in verse form, which makes its interpretation more difficult as the understanding of poetry is far more difficult than the understanding of prose. Guru Nank’s immense contribution to the development of Punjabi language and literature has been eclipsed by his spiritual greatness.5
Fourth, the compositions of AGGS are arranged according to various Indian ragas and rhythms. Thus the compositions of Gurus and bhagats (devotees) are scattered throughout the pages of AGGS.
In my opinion, the correct understanding and interpretation of AGGS requires expertise in poetry, linguistics, hermeneutics, science, logic, philosophy, psychoanalysis and the knowledge of social, economic and political conditions under which the people lived and the religions they practiced during the period of the Gurus.
Notwithstanding the difficulties mentioned above, AGGS could be properly understood if the reader pays attention to the following guidelines.
First, there is unity of thought in AGGS. Guru Nanak’s successors, who wrote their own sacred compositions, expressed Guru Nanak’s philosophy in their own words. That their message was the same as that of Guru Nanak has been clearly explained in the AGGS and by scholars.
nwnik rwju clwieAw scu kotu sqwxI nIv dY]
guir cyly rihrwis kIeI nwnik slwmiq QIvdY]
sih itkw idqosu jIvdY]
lhxy dI PyrweIAY nwnkw dohI KtIAY]
joiq Ehw jugiq swie sih kwieAw Pyir pltIAY]
Nanak established his spiritual kingdom on the firm foundation of Truth. Nanak bowed before his disciple Lehna and installed him on the spiritual throne. Due to the greatness of Nanak, Lehna’s fame spread far and wide. They were one and the same in spirit, only different bodily.
AGGS, Balwand and Satta, p 966.
Professor Grewal has explained this point very lucidly. “Before his death at Kartarpur in 1539 Guru Nanak chose his successor from amongst his followers, setting aside the claims of his sons. Nomination of a successor from amongst one’s own disciples was not a new thing; it was known to many an ascetical order of the times. But the nomination of Lehna by Guru Nanak was regarded as unique because Guru Nanak himself installed Lehna in his office. His name too was changed from Lehna to Angad, making him “a limb” of the founder. This nomination was important not merely because it enabled Guru Nanak to ensure the continuation of his work but also because it served as the basis of the idea that the positions of the Guru and the disciple were interchangeable. Closely linked with this was the idea that there was no difference between the founder and the successor, they represented one and the same light.”6
Bhai Gurdas has expressed similar opinion about the succession of the Guru Hargonind Sahib after his father, Guru Arjan Dev was tortured to death by the government authorities.
pMj ipAwly pMj pIr Ctm pIr bYTw gur BwrI]
Arjn kwieAw plt kY mUriq hirgoibMd svwrI]
In contrast to the first five Gurus, the sixth Guru, Hargobind Sahib (openly proclaimed spiritual and temporal sovereignty by donning two swords and royal dress). However, his message was the same as if his predecessor Guru Arjan was speaking through him.
Varan Bhai Gurdas, p 19.
Professor Chahal has elaborated on this point further by quoting from Gurbilas Patshahi 6 that Guru Hargopbind Sahib imbibed the teaching of Guru Nanak and he asked his successor, Guru Har Rai to do the same. 7
jo isiKXw gur nwnk kyrI[ so dInI suKisMDu GnyrI[
ey ibiD isiKXw deI Apwr[
gur hir rwie hIey sB Dwr[
The teaching, which was imparted by Guru Nanak is immensely blissful. Guru Har Rai was asked to imbibe this teaching in his heart, as it is the Word of the Infinite Being.
AiDAwie 21, pMnw 796 (Chapter 21, p 796).
gurisKn kI syvw krIXo]
eyk tyk gur nwnk DrIXo[
Accept only Guru Nanak’s guidance and serve his Sikhs.
AiDAwie 21, pMnw 796 (Chapter 21, p 796).
Moreover, only those compositions of bhagats were incorporated in the AGGS that were consistent with the Nankian philosophy 8 and wherever there were minor differences, the Gurus added their comments alongside the hymns of the bhagats. So there is a unity of thought throughout the AGGS.
Second, the religious terminology of other religions does not necessarily have the same meaning in the AGGS as it has in the implied religions.
Third, there are far more references to Hindu than to Muslim terminology and mythology in AGGS. However, the reader should keep in mind that Sikh Gurus rejected the essentials of Hinduism.9, 10 and 11
Continuing with the main theme of Part 1, I want to reiterate that AGGS rejects karma and transmigration categorically.
mwns dyh bhuir nh pwvih kCU aupwau mukiq kw kru ry ]
nwnk khqu gwie krunwmY Bvswgr kY pwir auqru ry]
“You won’t be born again, take some measures to obtain salvation right now. Praising the Merciful One will take you across the ocean of worldly temptations,” says Nanak.
AGGS, M 9, p220.
imlu jgdIs imln kI brIAw]
icrMkwl ieh dyh sMjrIAw]
This is your chance to meet the Lord of the universe, meet Him. It took a very long time for the human body to evolve.
AGGS, M 5, p 176.
This couplet is from a stanza about the evolution of life.
kbIr mwns jnmu dulMBu hY hoie n bwrY bwr]
ijau bn Pl pwky Buie igrih bhuir n lwgih fwr]
“Human birth is difficult to obtain because the dead person does not take birth again like a ripened fruit once fallen on the ground does not get attached to the branch,” asserts Kabir.
AGGS, Kabir, p 1366.
jy jwxw mir jweIAY Guim n AweIAY ]
JUTI dunIAw lig n Awip v\weIAY ]
When we know that after death we are not going to come back then why waste our lives in the pursuit of perishable worldly things?
AGGS, Farid, p 488.
Careful examination of Mcleod’s work3 reveals that whereas he has discussed most of the concepts of Nanakian philosophy lucidly, for some reasons he has not discussed one of the most important concepts of Nankian philosophy⎯the salvation (mukti), though he has mentioned it many times. Had he explored the meaning of salvation in AGGS, he would not have made the assumption that Guru Nanak accepted the doctrines of karma and transmigration!
McLeod has interpreted salvation as “A condition of ineffable union with the Eternal One in which all earthy bonds are dissolved and the cycle of death and rebirth is finally brought to an end, p 150-151. Or physical death, far from being something to be feared, is for the gurmukh a joy to be welcomed when it comes, for it means a perfecting of his union with God, p 187-188. Or he passes into a condition of union which transcends death and cycle of transmigration, p 193.” These interpretations clearly mean that salvation comes after physical death. In support of this type of salvation, McLeod asserts, “ Guru Nanak’s Gauri Dipki, which is recited every night by devout Sikhs as part of Kirtan Sohila, the Evening Prayer, is a sublime expression of the contentment with which a believer awaits his physical death and final release.” A careful study of this composition reveals that the union of a gurmukh with God is beautifully depicted in the imagery of a Punjabi wedding culminating in blissful union of bride and groom. There is no mention of death in this composition. It is difficult to imagine how McLeod construed from this composition that the union of a gurmukh with God takes place after physical death. If ignorant Sikhs have interpreted it wrong, it does not mean that a scholar of the caliber of McLeod should do the same!
Salvation in other religions means going to heaven after death. This type of salvation has been clearly rejected in AGGS.
rwju n cwhau mukiq n cwhau mn pRIiq crn kmlwry]
bRhm mhys isiD muin ieMdRw moih Twkur hI drswry]
I don’t crave for worldly kingdom or salvation (going to heaven); I crave for the comfort of God’s beautiful lotus feet. * Whereas others search for Brahma, Shiv, Sidhs, Munis and Indra (Hindu deities), I yearn for the glimpse of the Lord.
AGGS, M 5, p 534.
* I crave for the comfort of meditating on God’s attributes.
surg mukiq bYkuMT siB bWCih iniq Awsw Aws krIjY]
hir drsn ky jn mukiq n mWgih imil drsn iqRpiq mnu DijY]
All want the luxury of heaven through salvation and continuously hope for it. But the devotees who long for a glimpse of God, do not want that salvation, they are satisfied to have a glimpse of Him.
AGGS, M 4, p1324.
kbIr surg nrk qy mY rihE siqgur ky prswid]
crn kml kI mauj mih rhau AMiq Aru Awid]
Kabir says, “The merciful true Guru (God) has saved me from the temptations of heaven and the fear of hell. I am enjoying the pleasure of being at His lotus feet continuously.”
AGGS, Kabir, p 1370.
In Part 1, I have emphasized that Nankian philosophy is concerned with the current life, it rejects the concept of past or next life. Therefore, salvation⎯union with God⎯is to be achieved while being alive. One who attains union with God is called a “jiwan mukta” (a liberated person). Several synonymous words like gurmukh, sachiara, Sikh, gursikh, sant, sadh, and brahamgiani have been used for a “jiwan mukta” in AGGS. Such a person is also a mir- pir (temporally and spiritually sovereign). Khalsa who is free from - varanashrarm dharam (caste based religion), karm kand (Hindu rituals and ceremonies), bharam (superstition), kul (family lineage) and krit (caste based occupation restrictions) is also a jiwan mukta. Salvation in Nankian philosophy also means “emancipation” from ignorance and the deleterious effects of the material world (maya). McLeod’s translation of the hymns describing the transformation of man into a gurmukh (God-centered being) is beautiful and he sums up by saying, “Increasingly the believer becomes Godlike until he attains to a perfect identity, p 220-221.” The attributes of a gurmukh described by McLeod are the same as that of a “jiwan mukta” described hereunder.
pRB kI AwigAw Awqm ihqwvY]
jIvn mukiq soaU khwvY]
He, who abides by God’s Will, is a liberated person (jiwan mukta).
AGGS, M 5, p 275.
Anidnu jwig rhy ilv lweI]
jIvn mukiq giq AMqir pweI]
He, who remembers God all the time, becomes jiwan mukta by seeking within.
AGGS, M 1, p 904.
jIvn mukiq so AwKIAY mir jIvY mrIAY]
jn nwnk siqguru myil hir jgu duqru qrIAY]
Nanak says, “One crosses the ocean of worldly temptations when the true Guru unites one with God. Such a one who obtains freedom from the influence of haumain (self-centeredness) is called jiwan mukta.”
AGGS, M 4, p 449.
ivic dunIAw syv kmweIAY ]
qw drgh bYsxu pweIAY]
It is service to others that earns seat in God’s court.
AGGS, M 1, p 26.
jrw joih n skeI sic rhY ilv lwie]
jIvn mukqu so AwKIAY ijsu ivchu haumY jwie]
He, who dwells on God, does not experience spiritual decline. He who conquers haumai is a jiwan mukta.”
AGGS, M 1, p 1009.
Ehu DnvMqu kulvMqu piqvMqu]
jIvn mukiq ijsu irdY BgvMqu]
One who keeps God in heart is a jiwan mukta. Such a one is indeed wealthy, of high lineage, and honourable.
AGGS, M 5, p 294.
khu nwnk guir Koly kpwt]
mukqu Bey ibnsy BRm Qwt]
Nanak says, “ When the Guru opened my mind to the Reality, my false perceptions were removed and I was liberated.
AGGS, M 5, p 188.
Awip mukqu mukqu krY sMswru]
nwnk iqsu jn kau sdw nmskwru]
Nanak, always salute the enlightened one, who enlightens others.
AGGs, M 5, p 295.
Hell and Heaven
McLeod has not discussed the concept of heaven (Surg, Baikunth, Bahisht), however, he has referred several times to hell (Nark, Dozkh). For example, on page 188 he says that physical death of gurmukh results in perfect union with God whereas the death of a manmukh is the culmination of separation from God. The manmukh goes to the city of Yam or Narak, the nether region, but demythologised as in Christian theological usage.
Hell and heaven as perceived in other religions are rejected in AGGS; they are metaphors for the mental states of suffering and happiness, bad and good situations and immoral and moral life, respectively. For example:
Amlu kir DrqI bIju sbdo kir sic kI Awb inq dyih pwxI]
hoie ikrswxu eImwnu jMmwie lY iBsqu dojku mUVy eyv jwxI]
Let your daily actions be the field, sow the seed of Word and water it daily with truth. Work hard like a farmer and grow a crop of firm belief. O ignorant one, then you would understand the meaning of hell and heaven.
AGGS, M1, 24.
jb lgu min bYkuMT kI Aws]
qb lgu hoie nhIN crn invwsu]
As long as one longs for heaven, there is no communion with God.
AGGS, Kabir, p 325.
ijQY rKih bYkuMTu iqQweI qUM sBnw ky pRiqpwlw jIau]
O the Sustainer of all, wherever You keep me is heaven for me.
AGGS, M 5, p 106.
qhw bYkuMTu jh kIrqnu qyrw qUM Awpy srDw lwieih]
Wherever Your praises are sung is heaven and it is You who kindle devotion in the seeker.
AGGS, M 5, 749.
kauqk kof qmwisAw iciq n Awvsu nwau]
nwnk koVI nrk brwbry aujVu soeI Qwau]
“Where people are engrossed in worldly pleasures and forget the Almighty is a desolate place like hell,” says Nanak.
AGGS, M 5, p 707.
pUrn bRhm rivAw mn qn mih Awn n idRstI AwvY]
nrk rog nhI hovq jn sMig nwnk ijsu liV lwvY]
Nanak says, “Who are blessed with the company saints are not afflicted with suffering (Nurk). Their minds and bodies are completely infused with the Omnipresent and they don’t see any thing without Him.”
AGGS, M 5, p 531.
myrI myrI Dwir bMDin bMiDAw]
nrik surig Avqwr mwieAw DMiDAw]
The pursuit of maya shackles one to the worldly attachments. It is the business of maya which causes one pain (Nurk) or pleasure (Surg).”
AGGS, M 5, p 761.
pRyq ipMjr mih dUK Gnyry ]
nrik pcih AigAwn AMDyry]
The evil person suffers much pain. He suffers spiritual death (Nurk) in the darkness of ignorance.
AGGS, M 1, p 1029.
kvnu nrku ikAw surgu ibcwrw sMqn doaU rwdy]
hm kwhU kI kwix n kFqy Apny gur prswdy]
What is hell and what is that silly heaven, the saints reject both. We are not dependent on any body due to the grace of our Guru (God).
AGGS, Kabir, p 969.
To describe the fate of a manmukh (self-centered person), McLeod has interpreted the following verses on page 188 verses as:
nwie qyrY siB suKh vish min Awie]
ibnu nwvY bwDI jmpuir jwie]
Through Thy Name the man (mind) finds total bliss. Without the Name one goes bound to the city of Yam (hell).
AGGS, M 1, p 1327.
As mentioned earlier, hell and heaven represent the states of mental suffering and happiness, respectively. McLeod has interpreted the first verse correctly and the second incorrectly. The first verse is about a gurmukh, who meditates on God’s attributes and he finds total bliss. The second verse is about a manmukh, who is alienated from God and he suffers from mental agony. So it should be interpreted as:
One who is alienated from God suffers mental agony.
Further, on the same page he has interpreted the following verses as:
nwmu ivswir doK duK shIAY]
hukmu BieAw clxw ikau rhIAY]
nrk kUp mih goqy KwvY ijau jl qy bwhir mInw hy]
He who forgets the Name must endure suffering. When the divine Order bids him depart how can he remain. He is submerged in the well of Hell (and yet dies as surely) as fish out of water.
AGGS, M 1, p 1028.
The purpose of human life according to Guru Nanak is the realisation of God. Here the suffering of a manmukh is compared to the suffering of a fish out of water. The fish’s suffering ends when it goes back in water. Similarly, a manmukh’s suffering will end when he turns to God. However, a manmukh who remains alienated from God misses the opportunity to realise God. He can’t postpone his death as it occurs according to God’s immutable Hukam (Divine Law) and thus wastes his life. So these verses should be interpreted as:
One who forgets God endures suffering like a fish out of water. How can one resist the immutable death warrant?
Besides Naam does not mean simply the name of God, it represents the some total of God’s attributes and sometimes it has been used as synonym for God. 12
jyqw kIqw qyqw nwau ]
ivxu nwvY nwhI ko Qwau ]
Whatever is created is Naam (God’s manifestation) and there is no place without Naam.
AGGS, M 1, p4.
Further, on the same page he says, “The various things all point to the same thing. Submission to one’s haumai and entanglement in maya earns a karma, which perpetuates the transmigratory process. In the constant coming and going there is separation from God and this is Death.” To support this statement, he quotes hymns from Guru Nanak’s composition, Onkaru (AGGS, p 930, 934, 935-6, 937). He makes no mention that this composition is a discussion between Guru Nanak and a Brahman. Here Guru Nanak has used the words, hell and transmigration in the discussion because the Brahman believed in them, not that Guru Nanak believed in them. Guru Nanak first explains to the Brahman how one gets trapped in the snare of maya and becomes a manmukh and then suggests a solution for the salvation of a manmukh.
Commenting on the fate of a manmukh on page 189 he says, “The fate of an unregenerate man (manmukh) is the death of separation from God. How then can he escape this fate? In what manner is the way of salvation revealed to him and what must he do to appropriate it?”
First of all, human problems are to be solved while being alive and the goal is union with God. Second, careful study of the composition of Onkaru he has quoted on page 188-189, reveals that Guru Nanak did provide a solution to the predicament of a manmuk as described hereunder.
eyku sryvY qw giq imiq pwvY Awvxu jwxu rhweI]
One finds salvation when one comes to know of the greatness of One (God) by meditating on the One.
AGGS, M1, p 930.
AigAwnI miq hIxu hY gurU ibnu igAwnu n hoie]
ivCuiVAw mylY pRBU nwnk kir sMjog]
Nanak says, “The ignorant fool does not understand that without Guru’s guidance, he will not be enlightened. And God creates the opportunity to meet the Guru.”
AGGS, M 1, p 934.
iek rMig rcY rhY ilv lwie]
iev CutY iPir Pws n pwie]
When one remains focussed on the One with deep love, one finds liberation and does not get into the snare of maya again.”
AGGS, M 1, 935.
nwnk scy nwm ivxu JUTw Awvx jwxu]
Awpy cquru srUpu hY Awpy jwxu sujwxu]
Nanak says, “Life is meaningless without knowing the True One, Who is All-Wisdom and Omniscient.”
AGGS, M1, p 935.
mwieAw mmqw mohxI ijin kIqI so jwxu]
ibiKAw AMimRq eyku hY bUJY purKu sujwxu]
Maya (material world) is enchanting, but remember the One, Who created it. Only a wise person understands that maya is also the manifestation of God.
AGGS, M 1, p 937.
Opening Verse of AGGS the so-called (Mool Mantar)
The proper understanding of the opening verse of AGGS is essential for the proper understanding of AGGS. Unfortunately, scholars have not critically examined the significance and meaning of the opening verse. It is noteworthy that neither Guru Nanak, who composed the opening verse, nor Guru Arjan who compiled the Adi Granth, nor Guru Gobind Singh, who revised the Adi Granth, assigned any title to this verse. However, Sikhs call it as Mool (Mul) Mantar according to the tradition of ancient Indian literature.
Generally, McLeod does not trust Sikh traditions and rejects them without any reservation. However, in the case of the opening verse he accepts both the traditional name and interpretation with minor comments.13
“The title Mul Mantra, or ‘Basic Mantra’ was applied to an abbreviated form of this invocation by Bhai Gurdas. Guru Nanak himself declared that Harinam, the Name of God, was the Mul Mantra (AG, p. 1040). The two usages are not in conflict.” “The symbol Om is particularly open to misinterpretation, if it is to be read without reference to Guru Nanak’s other works and it is by no means self-evident why Dr. Jodh Singh should paraphrase sati namu as ‘He is eternal’.”
< siq nwmu krqw purKu inrBau inrvYru Akwl mUriq AjUnI sYBM gurpRswid ]
This Being is One. He is eternal. He is immanent in all things and the Sustainer of all things. He is the Creator of all things. He is immanent in His creation. He is without fear and without enmity. This Being is not subject to time. He is beyond birth and death. He is responsible for His own manifestation. (He is known) by the Guru’s grace.
Contrary to McLeod’s remark Guru Nanak rejected the concept of mantra and his description of Harinam as Mul Mantar is a metaphoric expression. For example:
qMqu mMqu pwKMfu n jwxw rwmu irdY mnu mwniAw ]
AMjnu nwmu iqsY qy sUJY gur sbdI scu jwinAw ]
I do not believe in the trickery of Tantra and mantra to win God’s affection, I imbibe Him in my heart. Meditation on Naam is the collyrium that pleases Him. The one who understands the Eternal One through Guru’s teachings has this insight?
AGGS, M 1, p 766.
qMqu mMqu pwKMfu n koeI n ko vMsu vjwiedw ]
There was no trickery of Tantra and mantra and no one was playing the flute.
AGGS, M 1, p 1035.
Avru n AauKDu qMq n mMqw ]
hir hir ismrxu iklivK hMqw ]
There is no other cure through Tantara or mantra, but Naam Simran (dwelling on God’s attributes) destroys sins.
AGGS, M 1, p 416.
mUl mMqR hir nwmu rswiexu khu nwnk pUrw pwieAw ]
Meditation on Naam (God’s attributes) is the basic method (Mul Mantar) and that is how Nanak has realized the Perfect One.
AGGS, M 1, p 1040.
Here Mool Mantar means basic method not the name of God or any formula (mantra).
In light of the foregoing discussion it is improper to name the “Opening Verse” as Mul Mantar because Guru Nanak launched a campaign against superstition and the witchcraft of Tantra and mantra. Rather, it may be considered as the “creedal statement” of Nankian philosophy as it is placed at the head of all compositions under various ragas in the AGGS.
Furthermore, there are two major flaws in the interpretation of the opening verse. First, the open Ura with extended curved arm of < is considered as a symbol of Om and it is pronounced as Oankar. To understand this unique character, < , it must be pointed out that the concept of one God was known before Guru Nanak. However that God is more like a tribal god. He is the god of chosen people or men of special caste or accessible only to the followers of His Son or Prophet. On the other hand Guru Nanak’s God is accessible to all, irrespective of their caste, colour, creed, gender and geographical situation.
nwnk siqguru AYsw jwxIAY jo sBsY ley imlwie jIau]
Nanak the true Guru (God) brings all together.
AGGS, M, 1, p 72).
sBy swJIvwl sdwiein qUM iksY n idsih bwhrw jIau ]
O my Beloved, all claim common heritage in You and no one looks at You as a stranger.
AGGS, M 5, p 97.
Moreover, Guru Nanak made it very clear that God is mystery even to the scriptures.
byd kqybI Bydu n jwqw ]
Neither the Veda nor the Semitic scriptures know the mystery of God.
AGGS, M 1, p 1020.
Additionally, Guru Nanak did not assign any specific name or gender to God and he has described God in terms of God’s infinite and ineffable nature again and again. Therefore, the open Ura with extended curved arm can’t be the symbol of Om as Om is the name of God given by Hindus. And it can’t be pronounced as Oankar because if Guru Nanak wanted it to be pronounced Oankar, he could have written it that way as in the following example and on pages 340, 885,1061, 1310 of AGGS.
EAMkwir bRhmw auqpiq ]
EAMkwir kIAw ijin iciq ]
EAMkwir gurmiuK qry ]
AGGS, M 1, p 930.
Besides, the open Ura with extended curved arm is always found in conjunction with 1 and only in the opening verse and its abridged forms, not anywhere else throughout the text of AGGS. Mool Mantar: < siq nwmu krqw purKu inrBau inrvYru Akwl mUriq AjUnI sYBM gurpRswid, 33 times; abridged forms of Mool Mantar: < siq nwmu krqw purKu gurpRswid, 8 times; < siq nwmu gurpRswid, 2 times and < siq gurpRswid, 523 times. It is worth noting that < alone is not found anywhere in AGGS. If the open Ura with extended curved arm were to represents Oankar, it would have been substituted for EAMkwir in AGGS.
To my knowledge, the shape of the Ura of the opening verse has intrigued only two persons. Nirmal Singh Kalsi says that digit 1 and open Ura with extended curved arm (< ) is “Ekooooooo,” the echo of one, emphasising the Oneness of God.14 On the other hand Professor Chahal has split this Ura into two parts: the open Ura ( E ) and the extended curved arm (∩). He interprets the open Ura (E) as Oh in Punjabi and the extended arm as infinity meaning that God is Infinite. Therefore, his interpretation of digit 1 and open Ura with extended arm ( < ) is: One and Only That is Infinite (Ik Oh Beant).14 I like the latter interpretation because most often in AGGS God is described as Infinite and Ineffable.
I think Guru Nanak constructed a special symbol, an open Ura with a curved arm to represent the Infinite and Ineffable God, Who creates all, sustains all and loves all.
The second major flaw in the interpretation of the of the opening verse is the interpretation of Gurparsad ((gurpRswid). Almost hundred years ago, Macauliffe noted that Sikhs were interpreting all the words of the opening verse as attributes (adjectives) of God except Gurparasd, which was interpreted as “God is realized by the grace of Guru.” Macauliffe suggested that for the sake of conformity Gurparsad (gurpRswid) should be split into two words: Gur meaning Enlightener and Parsad meaning Bountiful. This way all the words of the opening verse are attributes of God. He remarked that some of the gyanis (learned person) agreed with him. He further mentioned that his interpretation makes more sense because Guru Nanak did not have a human Guru.15 All most all the Sikhs, who have written books about Sikhism in English, have consulted Macauliffe’s work. However, they have ignored his observation about Gurparsad. Recently, few scholars have started interpreting Gurparsad the way Macauliffe has suggested.
I think it is the misinterpretation of Guparsad (gurpRswid) as “God is realized by the grace of Guru”, which has spurred “gurudoms” like Namdhari, Radhasoami and Nirankari and a herd of so-called holy sants / babas.
Furthermore, according to Professor Sahib Singh, Mool Mantar is not a part of Japu; it is placed at the head of Japu like it is placed at the head of banis (sacred compositions of AGGS) under different ragas.16 The abridged forms of Mool Mantar are placed at the heads of banis within ragas. What is the significance of this format? The obvious explanation is that the interpretation of bani must be consistent with the attributes of God described in the opening verse. I think that is why Guru Arjan Dev chose this format.
The Part below is the remaining unpublished section of Part 2
Sikh Gurus and Bhagats
The word sant (saint) has been used numerous times in the AGGS and it is interchangeable with bhagat and sadh. However, the word sant has not been used as an epithet for the saints whose compositions are incorporated in the AGGS. They are designated as bhagats and their composition is called bhagat bani (composition of a bhagat). Had they been known as sants during the time of Guru Arjan, they would have been designated as sants in the AGGS. It seems reasonable that the usage of the word sant for them started after the compilation of the Adi Granth. It is possible that Western scholars who are responsible for the so-called “Sant tradition” construct used the word sant for them. In order to place Guru Nanak in the “Sant tradition” and to further link him with Bhakti Movement Mcleod has put forward arguments for which there is no support in AGGS. For example, he says, “There is a conspicuous lack of Sufi terminology in the works of Guru Nanak. Even when a Sufi term makes an appearance, it is rarely used in a sense implying the precise meaning which it would possess in Sufi usage, and in some cases such terms are introduced with the patent intention of providing a reinterpretation of their meaning. This contrasts significantly with a wealth of Sant terminology and imagery derived from Hindu sources. Almost all of his basic terminology is of native Indian derivation. In choosing name of God his preference is strongly for Hindu names, and when dealing with concepts which has obvious affinities with Sufi beliefs he will almost always use a no-Sufi term, p 159.”
There is an obvious and logical explanation for why there is preponderance of Hindu terminology in AGGS. Guru Nanak was born in a Hindu family and grew up among Hindus at a time when the Indian population was predominantly Hindu. It was the Hindus with whom he had most religious discussions, debates and discourses. It was the Hindus to whom he preached most of the time. So it is natural that he used their names for God, their religious beliefs and customs to explain his thoughts to them. However, their meaning is not the same in Nankian philosophy as in Hinduism. He rejected the essentials of Hinduism and the moral authority of Hindu scriptures.9, 10 and 11 The names of Hindu gods like Rama, Krishana, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh in AGGS are used only for the “One and Only Supreme Being.” There are rare personal references to Hindu gods and there they are depicted as mere mortals. For example:
rovY rwmu inkwlw BieAw ]
sIqw lKmxu ivCuiV gieAw ]
rovih pWfv Bey mjUr ]
ijn kY suAwmI rhq hdUir ]
Ram bewailed in exile when he was separated from Sita and Lachman. Even the Pandvas who lived in the company their master (lord Krishna) were forced to do hard labor in destitution.
AGGS, M 1, p 953.
rogI bRhmw ibsnu srudRw rogI sglu sMswrw ]
hir pd cIin Bey sy mukqy gu kw sbdu vIcwrw ]
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are afflicted with self-centeredness (haumain) as the rest of the world. Only those are free from this affliction, who have realized God through the Word.
AGGS, M 1, p 1153.
bhu swsqR bhu isimRqI pyKy srb Ffoil ]
pUjis nwhI hir hry nwnk nwm Amol ]
I have searched many Shastars and Simrtis, their teachings do not show the way to God. But the dwelling on God’s attributes is invaluable.
AGGS, M5, p 265.
byd pVy piV bRhmy hwry ieku iqlu nhI kImiq pweI ]
ds Aauqwr rwjy hoie vrqy mhwdyv AauDUqw ]
iqn BI AMqu n pwieE qyrw lwie Qky ibBUqw ]
Many a Brahma got tired of studying Vedas, but they could not estimate even an iota of God’s greatness.
Ten incarnations of Vishnu and the famous ascetic Shiv who got tired of smearing his body with ashes, could not fathom God’s extent.
AGGS, M 5, p 747.
Furthermore, Guru Nanak did not assign any specific name or gender to God. However, Sikhs continue to use “He” for God under the influence of other religion. God is most often described in adjectives emphasizing God’s infinite and ineffable nature. The Gurus accepted all the names, people used for God. But God is the creator of cosmos. God is beyond time and space, so what appropriate word or term can describe the Indescribable and the Ineffable One?
ikrqm nwm kQy qyry ijhbw]
siqnwmu qyrw prw pUrblw]
Tongue describes You by the names people have given You, “Eternal One” is Your primordial name.
AGGS, M 5, p 1083.
Additionally, Guru Nanak rejected asceticism and celibacy. It is the householder who sustains human society whereas an ascetic is a parasite. It is the householder, who makes an honest living and practices charity, finds the righteous path, not the ascetic who goes with a begging bowl to the householder for alms.
guru pIru sdwey mMgx jwie]
qw kY mUil n lgIAY pwie]
Gwil Kwie ikCu hQhu dyie]
nwnwk rwhu pCwxih syie]
Never bow at the feet of the one, who claims to be a great spiritual teacher, but goes begging for alms.
On the other hand one who works hard to make an honest living and practices charity finds the righteous path.
AGGS, M, 1, p 1245.
The Gurus were the champions of householders and they emphasised and promoted householder life in their writings. The relationship between God and man is depicted in the imagery of family life. God is the husband and all human beings as spouses. God is also called father, mother, brother, friend and lover.
nwnk siqguir ByitAw pUrI hovY jugiq ]
hsMidAw pYynMidAw KwvMidAw ivcy hovY mukiq ]
Nanak say, “ The true Guru teaches the proper way to obtain salvation while enjoying worldly pleasures⎯merriment, wearing good clothes and eating good food.”
AGGS, M1, p 522.
Finally, Professor Puran Singh, the mystic poet has summed up so beautifully and succinctly the meaning of Hindu terminology present in AGGS.
The words Brahman (Braham) and Para-Braham also come in Guru Granth, but as Cunningham says “by way of illustration only.” Similarly, the names of all gods and goddesses of Brahminical Pantheon.17
It is to be regretted that Sikh and Hindu scholars are interpreting Guru Nanak in the futile terms of the color he used, the brush he took; are analyzing the flesh of his words and dissecting the texts to find the Guru’s meaning to be the same as of the Vedas and Upanishads! Dead words are used to interpret the fire of the Master’s soul!17
Though there are far less references to Islamic terminology than to Hindu terminology, but the meaning of Islamic terms is more or less similar in the AGGS. For instance - Allah, Khuda, Rab, Rahim, Karim and Parvaradgar (God’s name); Hukam (Divine Law); Raza (Will); Qudrat (nature) and nadar, karam, mehar, tars and bakhsis (Divine grace). Moreover, words like sardar or sirdar (leader), Nihang (Akali Singh), fateh (victory), shahadat (martyrdom) and shaheed (martyr) are of Islamic origin and used in the same sense.
Additionally, Guru Gobind Singh used the word Khalsa in the Arabic sense for the entire Sikh community when he abolished the massand system. The word massand is a derivative of the Persian word masnad (seat of authority).
Vaisnava bhagats like Ramanuja, Vallbha, Tulsidas and Chaitanya were dualist – monotheist and pantheist. They worshiped and adored God whom they called by names like Narayna and Hari. They also had their favorite deity, the reincarnation of Vishnu⎯lord Rama or lord Krishana. They adored Rama and his wife Sita and Krishna and his consorts. They were less rigid in observing caste restrictions, but they did not reject the caste system or its validity. They were idol worshipers who believed in the sanctity of Hindu pilgrim centers. Above all they advocated asceticism and celibacy. Their thoughts represent the mainstream of Hindu philosophy going back to Vedas.
On the other hand, bhagats like – Namdev, Kabir, Ravi Das and others whose compositions are incorporated in the AGGS, believed in one God and equality of all human beings. They rejected idol worship, ascetic life, celibacy, and the caste system and its validity. Calling them Hindus or Hindu reformers betrays ignorance of their theology or it is a disingenuous attempt to hijack their theology. They denounced the tyranny of the caste system and the bigotry of Muslims. They rejected the moral authority of Hindu scriptures. They were neither Hindus nor Mulims, they were humanists whose theology was closer to Islam. That is why Jajit Singh18 and Daljit Singh19 have characterized these bhagats as “radical bhagats” to distinguish them from Vaisnava bhagats.
ihMdU AMnwH qurkU kwxw ]
duhW qy igAwnI isAwxw ]
ihMdU pUjY dyhurw muslmwxu msIiq ]
nwmy soeI syivAw jh dyhurw n msIiq ]
Hindu is blind whereas Muslim is one eyed. Wiser than both is the one who sees God in all. Temples are sacred to the Hindus and mosques are sacred to the Muslims, whereas Nam Dev focuses his mind on the One and Only, Who is not restricted either to the temple or the mosque.
AGGS, Namdev, p 875.
Alhu gYbu sgl Gt Biqir ihrdY lyhu bIcwrI ]
ihMdU qurk duhUM mih eykY khY kbIr pukwrI ]
Ponder over the fact that God resides within all. Kabir proclaims loudly that the same God is within both Hindus and Muslims.
AGGS, Kabir, p 483.
byd kI puqRI isMimRiq BweI ]
sWkl jyvhI lY hY AweI ]
Brother, Simrti is the outcome the Vedas. It has brought the chains of the caste system and ropes of liturgy to entrap you.
AGGS, Kabir, p 329.
byd purwn swsqR AnMqw gIq kibq n gwvaugo ]
AKMf mMfl inrMkwr mih Anhd bynu bjwvaugo ]
I shall not sing the endless songs and poetry of Vedas, Purans and Shastars.
I shall play a steady tune on the flute of love of the Formless One Whose abode is Eternal.
AGGS, Namdev, p 972.
krm Akrm bIcwrIAY sMkw suin byd purwnu ]
sMsw sd ihrdy bsY kaunu ihrY AiBnwnu ]
If one determines good or bad actions on the basis of Vedas and Purans, one’s mind is filled with doubt and worry. These scriptures do not tell how to cure self-conceit.”
AGGS, Ravi Das, p 346.
grB vws mih kulu nhI jwqI ]
bRhm ibMdu qy sBu auqpwqI ]
jO qUM bRwhmxu bRhmxI jwieAw ]
qEu Awn bwt kwhy nhI AwieAw]
qum kq bRwhmx hm kq sUd ]
hm kq lohU qum kq dUD ]
O Brahman, inside the womb there is no lineage or caste! All are created from the seed of Brahm (God).
If you are Brahman born of Brahman mother then why did not you take birth by some other route?
How come you are Brahman and I am Shudar? How come I am defiled (blood) and you are holy (milk)?”
AGGS, Kabir, p 324.
kbIr rwm khn mih Bydu hY qw mih eyku ibcwru ]
soeI rwmu sBY khih soeI kauqkhwr ]
kbIr rwmY rwm khu kihby mwih ibbyk ]
eyku Anykih imil gieAw eyk smwnw eyk ]
After pondering over the meaning of Ram, Kabir says, “ It has two meanings. While everyone uses Ram for God, the actors use it for Ram Chandar (the son of Dasrath). Kabir dwells on Ram, Who is God. The one Ram (God) is present in all whereas the other (Ram Chandar) was only himself.”
AGGS, Kabir, p 1374.
eykY pwQr kIjY Bwau ]
dUjy pwQr DrIAY pwau ]
jy Ehu dyau q Ehu BI dyvw ]
kih nwmdyau hm hir kI syvw ]
One stone is adorned while another is trodden under feet. If one is god, the other is also god. Namdev says, “I worship only God.”
AGGS, Namdev, p 525.
Guru Nanak’s Antecedents
According to Mcleod: “It was this Sant tradition which provided the basis of Guru Nanak’s thoughts, an inheritance which like Kabir, he reinterpreted in the light of his own personality and experienc.20 For Sant belief the major source is to be found in the Bhakti Movement, with the Nath theory entering as a significant secondary source.21 The pattern evolved by Guru Nanak is a reworking of the Sant synthesis. …. This is not to suggest, however, that Guru Nanak’s thought was a precise copy of what earlier Sants had developed. … He received a synthesis and passed it on, but in a form, which was in some measure amplified, and in considerable measure clarified and integrated. This applies in particularly to his understanding of the manner of divine communication with God. Guru Nank’s concept of the Sabad, the Nam, the Guru, and the Hukam carry us beyond any thing that the works of earlier Sants offer in any explicit form…The result is a new synthesis, a synthesis, which is cast within the pattern of Sant belief but which nevertheless possesses a significant originality and, in contrast with its Sant background, a unique clarity. It possesses, moreover, the quality of survival, for it remains today the substance of a living faith.”22
No idea or philosophy develops or grows in vacuum; they are built on existing ideas and philosophies. This is how the human society has progressed from the very primitive⎯way back to our ancestors who lived in Africa more than 200000 years ago⎯to the modern age. Nevertheless, there is no reason why different people can not develop similar ideas without help from each other. In Guru Nanak’s composition there is no reference that his thoughts were influenced by any of the bhagats whose compositions are incorporated in the AGGS. The inclusion of the compositions of bhagats in the AGGS does not mean that they were the antecedents of Sikh Gurus. Aad Gru Granth Sahib is unique among the scriptures of the world. Unlike the founders of other religions, the Sikh Gurus themselves wrote down their “mystic experience” in the form of sacred hymns and compiled the AGGS. I am awe-struck at the similarity of the layout of the contents of my Ph.D. thesis published in 1967 and that of Adi Granth compiled in 1604 by Guru Arjan Dev. In my thesis the title is followed by the summary of research results, background material or prior art⎯references to research related to my thesis that was done earlier, and the discussion of experimental results, in that order. In AGGS the opening verse is the creedal statement⎯foundation of Nankian philosophy, followed by Japu ⎯the summary of Nankian philosophy. The remaining gurbani is the discussion of Nankian philosophy whereas bhagat bani is the background material. By incorporating bhagat bani Guru Arjan Dev has acknowledged the contribution of bhagats, who preceded the Gurus and whose thoughts are compatible with the Nankian philosophy. This is the primary reason for the inclusion of the works of bhagats in the AGGS. And also it is another unique feature of AGGS. It is worth noting that there are no quotes either from Hindu scriptures or Quran in the AGGS.
Who was Guru Nanak’s Guru and who was the founder of Sikhism?
It is explained many times very clearly in the AGGS that God is Guru Nanak’s Guru and Guru Nanak is the founder of Nankian philosophy (Gurmat). For Guru Nanak, God is knowledge and the source of all knowledge. Guru Nanak attributed all his knowledge, understanding and experience to God. For example, what he was saying and doing was at the command of God is clearly stated in the following verses.
hau FwFI vykwru kwrY lwieAw]
rwiq idhY kY vwr Durhu PurmwieAw]
FwFI scY mhil Ksim bulwieAw]
scI isPiq swlwh kpVw pwieAw]
I was an unemployed minstrel (dhadi),
But the Master gave me an occupation,
He called me to His abode of Truth,
And ordered me to sing His praises day and night,
And honored me with a robe of “propagating the glory of the True One.”
AGGS, M 1, p 150.
jYsI mY AwvY Ksm kI bwxI qYsVw krI igAwnu vy lwlo ]
O Lalo, I describe to you what the Lord reveals to me.
AGGS, M 1, p 722.
guru dyvw guru AlK AByvw iqRBvx soJI guru kI syvw]
Guru is Enlightener, Ineffable and Incomprehensible. One, who pays attention to the Guru (God), comprehends the nature of the universe.
AGGS, M, 1, p 1125.
AprMpr pwrbRhm prmysru nwnk gur imilAw soeI jIau ]
Nanak met the Guru, Who is Infinite, Formless and Omnipotent.
AGGS, M 1, p 599.
sc kI bwxI nwnku AwKY scu suxwiesI sc kI bylw ]
Nanak speaks the Word of the Eternal One (Sach) and he would continue doing so as the purpose of life is to speak the Truth.
AGGS, M1, p 723.
qyrw kvxu gurU ijs kw qU cylw]
sbdu gurU suriq Duin cylw]—
Furthermore, when the yogis asked Guru Nanak, “ Who is your Guru or whose disciple are you?” He replied, “The Shabad (Word)) is my Guru and my mind which is focused on the Shabad and comprehends it is the disciple. Here he has made it abundantly clear that Guru is the Shabad (Divine knowledge), not Guru person. Guru person is the medium for transmitting the Divine knowledge.
AGGS, M, 1, p 942.
Guru Nanak’s successors affirmed the same that Guru is God or Shabad (Word).
vwhu vwhu bwxI inrMkwr hY iqsu jyvfu Avru n koeI ]
Marvelous is bani as it is the Word of the Formless One and nothing equals it.
AGGS, M 3, p 515.
bwxI Guru hY bwxI ivc bwxI AMimRq swry ]
guru bwxI khY syvku jnu mwnY prqiK gurU insqwry ]
Word is the Guru and Guru is the Word as it contains the elixir of spiritual life. Guru utters the Word; the Sikh who accepts it certainly obtains salvation.
AGGS, M 4, p 982.
eyhu AKru iqin AwiKAw ijin jgqu sBu aupwieAw ]
The One, Who created the whole world, uttered this Word.
AGGS, M 4, p 306.
siqgur kI bwxI siq siq kir jwxhu gurisKhu ]
hir krqw Awip muhhu kFwey ]
Dear Sikhs, consider the bani of the true Guru as Truth, as it is the Creator, Who makes the Guru utter it.
AGGS, M 4, p 763.
Awid gurey nmh ] jugwid gurey nmh ]
I salute the Eternal Guru. I salute the Primeval Guru.
AGGS, M 5, p 262.
hau Awphu boil n jwxdw ]
mY kihAw sBu hukmwau jIau ]
I don’t know what to say, I speak what God orders me to say.
AGGS, M 5, p 763.
sqguru inrMjnu soie]
mwnuK kw kir rUpu n jwnu]
The true Guru is the Immaculate One, do not believe that God is in the form of a man.
AGGS, M, 5, p 895.
That Guru Nanak is the founder of Nankian philosophy (Sikhism) is confirmed in the following verses.
iqn kau ikAw aupdysIAY ijn guru nwwnk dyau]
What teachings can be imparted to those who have been taught by Guru Nanak.
AGGS, M 2, p150.
hoirNE gMg vhweIAY duinAweI AwKY ik ikEnu]
nwnk eIsir jg nwiQ auchdI vYx ivirikEinu]
The people of the world say that Nanak, the controller (Nath) of the world has promulgated a philosophy of the highest order that has changed the course of Ganges*.
* It means that Guru Nanak’s rejected many old religious beliefs, and the social, political and economic system of his time.
AGGS, Sattay Doom, p 967.
jnu nwnku boly gux bwxI gurbwxI hirnwim smwieAw ]
Nanak the person speaks of the excellences of God, Who is inherent in the Word.
AGGS, M 4, p 494.
bilE crwgu AMDwHr mih siB kil auDrI iek nwm Drm]
pRgtu sgl hir Bvn mih jnu nwnku guru pwrbRhm]
Nanak the person, the Guru, an image of the Formless One, has appeared in the world as light in darkness to dispel the ignorance of the whole world with Divine wisdom.
AGGS, M5, p1387.
Bgiq BMfwr guir nwnk kau saupy iPir lyKw mUil n lieAw ]
God entrusted Guru Nanak with the treasure of “Divine love” for distribution to all, and never asked for the account.
AGGS, M 5, p 612.
BieE AnugRhu prswid sMqn kY hirnwmw hY mITw ]
jn nwnk kau guir ikrpw DwrI sB Akul inrMjnu fITw ]
Through Guru’s advice one receives Divine grace and falls in love with God. When God showed kindness to Guru Nanak, he saw the “Immaculate One without lineage” in everyone.”
AGGS, M 5, p 612.
guru nwnku ijn suixAw pyiKAw sy iPir grBwis n pirAw ry ]
Those who have heard and accepted Guru Nanak’s teachings don’t fall into the womb of “falsehood and ignorance.”
AGGS, M 5, p 612.
sB qy vfw siqguru nwnku ijin kl rwKI myrI ]
Nanak, the true Guru, is the greatest of all who protects my honor.
AGGS, M5, p 750.
The nine successors of Guru Nanak preached and taught his philosophy by enriching and strengthening it by introducing innovative practices in the Sikh community over a period of two centuries.
The impact of the Sikh Movement versus the impact of theBhakti Movement on the Indian society.
To suggest that the Sikh Movement is an outgrowth of Bhakti Movement betrays ignorance of Sikh theology and history or an intentional attempt to distort Sikhism. Mohammed Iqbal, the renowned poet and Islamic thinker pointed out that there was darkness for a very long period after the light of Buddha was extinguished in India. The conscience of the Indian people went into deep slumber and remained dormant making the life of Shudars (lowest caste) hell. It was Guru Nanak who awakened the Indian people by lighting the torch of “universal humanism.” He does not recognize any visible positive impact of the Bhakti Movement on India.
kOm ny pYgwNm goqm kI zrw prvwh nw kI [ kdr pihcwnI nw Awpny gohr jkdwnw kI […Awh CUdr ky lIey ihMdosqwn gmKwnw hY [ drdy ienswnI sy ies bsqI kw idl bygwnw hY [… iPr auTI AwiKr sdw qOhId kI pMjwb sy [ ihMd ko iek mrdy kwml ny jgwieAw KuAwb sy [23
nwnk ny ijs cmn my bhdq kw gIq gwieAw [
The Indian people did not pay any attention to the message of Gautam. They did not recognize the value of
their “flawless diamond.”… India is a land of sorrow and suffering for the Shudar. There is no compassion in this place…. Eventually, a voice rose from Punjab proclaiming the “unity of mankind under
One and Only God.” A “perfect man” from Punjab awakened the conscience of the Indian people with his message of “universal love and humanism.”
Commenting on the victory of Khalsa forces over Muslim rulers Iqbal remarked:
Khalsa shamsheero Quran re burd,
Andrin Kishwar Mussakmani namurd.24
The Khalsa took away the sword and Quran from the Muslims and shattered the dreams of the Muslim conquest (The Khalsa entered the field with sword and moral convictions of their faith and shattered the dreams of the Muslim conquest).
The bhagats were concerned more with individual salvation than with the salvation of the society at large. For example, radical bhagats like Kabir, Namdev and Ravidas, who opposed the caste ideology vehemently, took no steps to set up any organization to carry their message forward. Soon after their death, their followers were absorbed in the caste society.25 On the other hand, Sikh Gurus created an egalitarian society⎯Sikh Panth (order) outside the caste society and made it a springboard for giving shape to a revolutionary movement. After rejecting the sacred thread at childhood ceremony (AGGS, p 471), Guru Nanak proclaimed his solidarity with the downtrodden at the very beginning of his ministry: “ I will stand by the lowest of the lowest rather than with the elite⎯privileged class (AGGS, p 15).” Two centuries later, people who had been dehumanized by the tyranny of caste system and the oppression of Muslim rulers, whose mere shadow could pollute the Brahmans⎯rallied under the banner of Guru Gobind Singh as “brotherhood” of the noble Khalsa Order. They challenged the mighty Mughals before whom the Rajput warriors used to prostrate26 and the Brahmans used to sing paeans “Eeshvro va Dilishvro va, (The emperor of Delhi is as great as God).”27 The Khalsa fought with tenacity and persistency against injustice and oppression for half a century. The more they were persecuted and killed, the more came forward to fill the ranks of the Khalsa.28 With dogged determination and firm faith in the “sovereignty”29 bestowed upon them by the tenth Nanak, they succeeded in defeating the combined forces of “caste ideology” and mighty Mughals and established the Khalsa (Sikh) rule over a vast tract of Northwestern India.30
Guru Nanak’s concern for the worldly problems of society.
In order to justify the inclusion of Guru Nanak in the so-called “Sant tradition” and the Bhakti Movement, Mcleod has either misunderstood or ignored Guru Nanak’s concern for the worldly problems of the Indian society. After presenting a confused picture of Guru Nanak’s concern for political, social and economic issues he sums up by asserting “Guru Nanak’s concern was accordingly for salvation, for personal salvation and for the salvation of others.”31
Salvation according to Guru Nanak is transformation of man to moral man (gurmukh) and that is the purpose of human life. A moral person constantly struggles against worldly problem. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of McLeod’s statements about Guru Nanak’s teachings, let me point out the following.
“The purpose of celebrated verses, which refer to Babur is not to provide a description of a Mughal invasion but to illustrate the fate of unrighteousness. The message is religious, not political.”32
However, the examination of the Babur Bani (hymns about Babur’s invasion) reveals that the message is broad: God did not send Babur to invade India 33 and God does not take sides in war 34, as God is the protector of all. Guu Nanak condemned the Lodis for their failure to defend the country and their subjects and also for not making adequate preparations to defend the country. Besides, retribution is not the attribute of God and haumai (self-centredness) is the root cause of human problems. The defeat of the Lodis as well as the victory of Mughals was the result of haumai. One who conquers haumai becomes a gurmukh. Here is an eyewitness account of the attack of Babur on Saidpur.
pwpu kI jM\ lY kwblhu DwieAw jorI mMgY dwnu vy lwlo ]
srmu Drmu duie Cip Kloey kUVu iPrY prDwnu vy lwlo ]
kwjIAw bwmxw kI gl QkI Agdu pVY sYqwnu vy lwlo ]
O Lalo, Babur has launched an invasion from Kabul with a marriage party of sin and demands a bride by force. Sense of shame and duty has disappeared and falsehood is the governing force. Instead of Brahmans and Qazis the devil is performing marriage ceremony.
AGGS, M 1, p 722.
What could be more forceful condemnation of the invasion and the atrocities committed by Babur’s army? What could be more forceful denunciation of the Indian rulers for their dereliction of duty to defend the country and its people?
The desperate Indian rulers engaged Pirs (holy men) to perform miracles and sorcery to defeat the Mughals. The hollowness of the claims of the supernatural powers of the Pirs was exposed, as they could not blind a single Mughal solider. It was the superior weaponry and determination of Babur’s army, which defeated the Indians.
kotI hU pIr vrij rhwey jw mIru suixAw DwieAw ]
Qwn mukwmu jly ibj mMdr muiC muiC kuier rulwieAw ]
koeI mugl n hoAw AMDw iknY n prcw lwieAw ]
When they heard of the invasion of Babur, the officials engaged many Pirs for their protection. The Mughals overran Indian posts and burnt down fortresses to the ground and cut down the princes to pieces. The supernatural power of the Pirs could not blind a single Mughal soldier.
AGGS, M 1, p 418
jy skqw skqy kau mwry qw min rosu n hoeI ] rhwau ]
skqw sIhu mwry pY vgY KsmY sw pursweI ]
rqn ivgwiV ivgoey kuqI muieAw swr n kweI ]
It is understandable when equally matched forces fight against each other, but not when one side is like a powerful lion and the other is like a herd cows. In that situation it is the duty of the ruler to protect his subjects like a cowherd protects the cows against the attack of a lion. (The Lodis) have wasted this jewel (country) and no body would mourn the death of these dogs.
AGGS, M 1, p 360.
Here Guru Nanak is commenting on the superiority of Mughal forces and their easy victory and he condemned the Lodis for not making adequate preparation to defend the country against foreign attack.
Further down on the same page McLeod says, “The three sloks refer to a far broader span of space and time than the period of Guru’s own lifetime…The condition of degeneracy which they express is a characteristic of the Kaliyug, the era of ultimate degeneracy in the cosmic cycle.”
In the AGGS there is no indication that the Gurus accepted the Hindu concept of four ages. Kaliyug is simply a metaphor for moral degeneration.
Contrary to McLeod’s assertion Guru Nanak’s composition makes it abundantly clear that he was very much concerned with the worldly problems of the people. He denounced the oppression and bigotry of Muslim rulers, cowardice and hypocrisy of Khatris and Rajputs and the tyranny of the caste system. He condemned the discrimination against women and the religious exploitation of masses by Brahmans, Mullahs, Yogis and other religious orders.
rwjy sIh mukdm kuqy]
jwie jgwiein bYTy suqy]
The rulers are like ferocious tigers and their officials as wild dogs, who harass and persecute the innocent subjects.
AGGS, M, 1, p 1288.
rwjw inAwau kry hiQ hoie ]
Kudwie n mwnY koie ]
Unless the petitioner bribes, even the king does not accept the petition. If someone petitions only in the name of God (justice), no body listens.
AGGS, M 1. P 350.
AMDI rXiq igAwn ivhUxI Bwih Bry murdwru ]
The subjects are ignorant due to lack of knowledge and victimised by official corruption.
AGGS, M 1, p 468.
rwjy Drmu krih pQrwie ]
Awsw bMDy dwnu krwie ]
The kings perform religious duties for selfish interests and practice charity for heavenly rewards.
AGGS, M 1, p 1024.
KqRIAw q Drmu CoifAw mlyC BwiKAw ghI ]
isRsit sb iek vrn hoeI Drm kI giq rhI ]
The Khatris have abdicated their duties. Instead they have adopted the language and manners of their masters (Muslims)) whom they call Malesh (the polluted ones). The whole society has degenerated abdicating moral obligations.
AGGS, M 1, p 663).
gaU ibrwhmx kau kru lwvhu gobir qrxu n jweI ]
DoqI itkw qY jpmwlI Dinu mlyCW KweI ]
CofIlY pwKMfw ]
You are taxing the cow and Brahman whom you worship; you are mistaken if you think that cow-dung coating of your kitchen would absolve you of your sins. You wear a mark on your forehead, a dhoti (cloth worn around the waist) and tell beads, but you are working for the Malesh to make a living. Give up hypocrisy!
AGGS, M1, P 471.
Commenting on the atrocities committed on the Hindu masses by the bigoted Muslim rulers, Guru Nanak exposed the nexus between Muslim rulers and the Khatris and Brahmans in a biting political satire. It was the Muslim ruler, who was responsible for the persecution of Hindu masses, but it was the Khatri officials who executed the orders of their master, and the Brahman priests approved the doings of the Khatris.
mwxs Kwxy krih invwj ]
CurI vgwiein iqn gil qwg ]
iqn Gir bRhmx pUrih nwd ]
The man-eater performs Namaz (Muslim prayer). The one who carves out the flesh for him wears the sacred thread around his neck (Khatri). The Brahman blows the conch in the Khatri’s house to sanctify his doings.
AGGS, M 1, P 471.
qKiq bhY qKqY kI lwiek ]
pMc smwey gurmiq pwiek ]
The one who has control over - lust, anger, greed, attachment and arrogance - should occupy the throne.
AGGS, M 1, p 1039.
huix hukmu hoAw imhrvwx dw ]
pY koie n iksY r\wxdw ]
sB suKwlI vuTIAw iehu hlymI rwju jIau ]
The Kind one has decreed that no one is persecuted. Every one is happy and that what makes it a rule of benevolence and justice.
AGGS, M 5, p 74.
kwdI kUVu boil mlu Kwie]
bRwhmx nwvY jIAw Gwie]
jogI jugiq n jwxY AMDu]
qIny EjwVy kw bMD]
Qazi (Muslim magistrate) tells lies and accepts bribe. The Brahman priest bathes ceremoniously, but practices cruelty and deceit. The ignorant yogi has lost his way in search of abstract tranquility. All three are spiritually barren.
AGGS, M, 1, 662.
Guru Nanak rejected the idea that woman is inferior to Man. He condemned the persecution and humiliation to which women were subjected. Woman was relegated to the status of a man’s shoe in the Indian society. Both Hinduism and Islam sanction the inferiority of woman. In both religions rulers are the protector and enforcer of religious rules and regulations. In his composition extolling womankind he challenged the custodians of discriminating laws: “It is the woman who sustains the human race through conception and nurture. It is the woman through whom relations are created. Every one is dependent on woman except the Creator of all. How could women of whom are born sovereigns be considered inferior?” Guru Amardas emphasized the same point by saying that in this world there is only one “Man” and all are His spouses. In other words for God man and woman are equal.
BMif jMmIAY BMif inMmIAY BMif mMgxu vIAwhu]
BMfhu hovY dosqI BMfhu clY rwhu ]
so ikau mMdw AwKIAY ijq jMmih rwjwn]
nwnk BMfY bwhrw eyko scw soie ]
AGGS, M, 1, p 473
iesu jg mih purKu eyk hY hor sglI nwir sbweI siB Gt BogvY Ailpqu rhY AlKu n lKxw jweI]
AGGS, M, 3, p 591
rMnw hoeIAw boDIAw purs hoey seIAwd]
Due to discrimination and maltreatment women have lost their vitality and become submissive and as a consequence of that men have become brutal.
AGGS, M 1, p1243.
Guru Nanak warned against greed for excessive wealth, disapproved of beggary and urged honest living and charity.
pwpw bwJhu hovY nwhI muieAw swiQ n jweI ]
Wealth can not be amassed without illegal means and it does not go with the dead.
inrMkwir jo rhY smwie ]
kwhy BiiKAw mMgix jwie ]
Why should he beg who claims to dwell on God?
AGGS, M 1, p 953.
guru pIru sdwey mMgx jwey ]
qw kY mUil n lgIAY pwie ]
Never touch the feet of those who claim to be spiritual leaders but live on charity.
AGGS, M 1, p 1245.
Gwil Kwie ikCu hQhu dyie]
nwnwk rwhu pCwxih syie]
One who works hard to make an honest living and practices charity finds the righteous path.
AGGS, M 1, p 1245.
scu qw pru jwxIAYY jw isK scI lyie ]
dieAw jwxY jIa kI puuMnu dwnu kryie ]
Truthful is the one who practices truth, compassion and charity.
AGGS, M 1, p 468.
Guru Nanak gave a clarion call to the people to adopt righteous living with an explicit caution that it requires sacrifices.
jau qau pRym Kylx kw cwau]
isru Dir qlI glI myrI Awau]
iequ mwrig pYru DrIjY]
isr dIjY kwix n kIjY]
If you want to play the game of love (righteous living) then follow my path and be prepared to make supreme sacrifice. Once you step on this path, do not hesitate to offer your head.
AGGS, M, 1, p 1412.
The above proclamation is central to the Sikh Movement⎯the basis of Miri-Piri (temporal and spiritual sovereignty) and the development the noble Khalsa Order. Only a moral person (gurmukh) can be a Mir-Pir ⎯Khalsa.
In defence of his controversial work McLeod claims that his work is based on “Western methodology of historical research.”
Is it possible for any scholar whether from the East or West to interpret Sikhism or Sikh history properly without proper understanding of Guru Nanak’s teachings? When asked to explain the meaning of Mohan (mohn) in Guru Arjan Dev’s composition, Gurinder Singh Mann replied, “I am a historian, not a theologian.”35
This article demonstrates that McLeod’s interpretation of the concepts of salvation, hell and heaven is not consistent with AGGS. Furthermore, his interpretation of the fate of a mankukh and his claim that Guru Nanak did not suggest a solution for the salvation of a manmukh is also not correct. His acceptance of the traditional name and interpretation of the opening verse is not supported by AGGS. His identification of radical bhagats as sants and that Guru Nanak was an affiliate of the sant tradition is not supported by AGGS. More over, contrary to Mcleod’s interpretation the main thrust of Nankian philosophy is the uplift of mankind.
This article dedicated to the memories of those who upheld the principles of Gurmat philosophy without flinching or wavering in the face of unspeakable tortures. “Who were cut up alive limb by limb, skinned alive, boiled alive, sawed alive, carded like cotton and forced to bear the cutup pieces of the bodies of their children as necklaces.”
Sardar Gurdial Singh Lumma, a self-taught man with no formal education, who used to discuss books like “Katik Ke Vaisakh” with me when I was eighth class student. A man who taught me what is discerning intellect (ibbyk bu~D). He used to say that without discerning intellect even a doe eyed person is blind (ibbyk bu~D qoN ibnw qy imrg dIAW A`KW vwlw BI AMHnw huMdw).
and to my parents
Sardar Bhajan Singh and Sardarni Bhagwaun Kaur. My dear mother’s sweet and precious words echo in my ears all the time. “Son, I will miss you very much, but don’t worry, I will be alright. It doesn’t matter if you settle down over there, but remember, wherever you live, your neighbours should know you as an honest person and wherever you work, your colleagues should know you, as a dependable, competent and
1 Singh, B. Misinterpretation of Gurbani by W. H. McLeod, Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2002,
4 (2), 32-36.
2 AGGS: Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 CE (Reprint), Pp 1430. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara
Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i. e. succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the house
of Nanak, for the composition of a bhagat (saint), M is replaced by the name of bhagat, P = page of
3 McLeod, W. H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996.
4 Macauliffe, M. A. The Sikh Religion, Vols. I, 1990, p v-vi.
5 Sekhon, S. S. Guru Nanak’s Contribution to Punjabi Language and Literature in Guru Nanak: His Life, Time & Teachings, Ed. Gurmukh Nihal Singh, 1969, p 236-248: There is no evidence that there was any Punjabi literature in prose or poetry before Guru Nanak, except some couplets of Baba Sheik Farid. Guru Nanak was the founder of Punjabi poetry and literature and before him Punjabi was the language of peasants, artisans and traders. He enriched the Punjabi language by adding words from other languages. Furthermore, he used religious terminology of other faiths and folklore and idiom of Punjabi language to expound his own philosophy, thus transforming Punjabi from a crude and rustic language to a language of literature and philosophy. He was a poet par excellence. He set his songs to the tune of Indian musical modes of ragas and rhythms. No Punjabi poet has so far matched his effectiveness and efficiency of use of words, idioms and metaphors.
6 Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of the Punjab, 1994, p 41.
7 Chahal, D. S. Sabd Guru to Granth Guru – a study, Undersatnding Sikhism Res J., 2003, 5 (1), p 19-27.
8 Chahal, D. S. Nankian philosophy, the term defined. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2002, 4 (2), 17-22.
9 Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of the Punjab, 1994, p 31.
10 Singh, J. The Sikh Revolution, 4th reprint, 1998 p 105-106.
11 Singh, S. The Sikhs in History, 4th ed., 2001, p 19.
12 AGGS, p 284, 293, 603, 753, 946.
13 McLeod, W. H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996, p 163-164.
14 Chahal, D. S. Sikhism: Scientific and logical religion for the third millenium and beyond. Understanding Sikhism Res. J. 2002, 2(2), 7-23.
15 Macauliffe, M. A. The Sikh Religion, Vol. I, 1990, p 195.
16 Singh, S. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan, Part 1 (Punjabi), 3rd ed., 1972, p 47.
17 Mehboob, H. S. Sehje Rachio Khalsa (Punjabi), 2000, p 26-27.
18 Singh, J. The Sikh Revolution, 4th reprint, 1998, p 70-76.
19 Singh, D. Sikhism: A Comparative Study of Its Theology and Mysticism, 1994, p 157-174.
20 McLeod, W. H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996, p 157.
21 Ibid., p 160.
22 Ibid., p 161.
23 Courtesy of Professor of Professor Ranbir Singh Sandhu.
24 Mehboob, H. S. Sehje Rachio Khalsa (Punjabi), 2000, p 1113. Also a review in, Abstracts of Sikh
Studies, October-December, 1996, p 76-79.
25 Singh, J. The Sikh Revolution, 4th reprint, 1998, p 77-84.
26 Ibid., p 214- 216.
27 Narang, G. C. Transformation of Sikhism, 5th ed., 1960, p 98.
28 Ibid., p 128.
We are the crop and Mannu the sickle,
The more he cuts us,
The more we grow,
In every house and hamlet.
Mir Mannu asadi datari asi Mannu de soe, Jion, jion Mannu wadhda gharin gharin asi hoe (mIr m`nUM.
AswfI dwqrI AsIN m`nUM dy soey, ijauN ijauN m`nUM vFdw GrIN GrIN AsIN hoey] Ali-ud-Din, Ibrat Namah).
29 Editorial. Nash Doctrine of Five Freedoms, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, July- September 1996, p 1-13.
30 Grewal, J. S. The Sikhs of the Punjab, 1994, p 82-127.
31 McLeod, W. H. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1996, p 162-163.
32 Ibid., p 162.
33 AGGS, M 1, p 360: AwpY dosu n dyeI krqw jmu kir muglu cVwieAw ]
34 AGGS, M 1, P 360: eyqI mwr peI krlwxY qYNkI drdu n AwieAw ]
35 In 1994 after the religious services at Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Rabinder Singh Bhamra talked about Professor Gurinder Singh Mann’s academic program at the Columbia University and appealed to the congregation for financial help. Afterwards a group of Sikhs stared asking Mann questions about his thesis and the meaning of Mohan in Guru Arjan Dev’s composition. To extricate himself from the unpleasant situation he was in, he replied, “I am a historian, not a theologian.” When the inquisitors were gone, I told Mann that according to Professor Sahib Singh Mohan is an epithet for God. “We disagree with Professor Sahib Singh, after all Mohan was Guru Arjan Dev’s mama (mother’s brother),” quipped Mann.