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Sri Guru Granth Sahib - English Translation - Book By Gurbachan Singh Talib

From the Frontcover of the Book 'Sri Guru Granth Sahib - English Translation' By Gurbachan Singh Talib

Guru Granth Sahib (completed 1604) is the sacred Scripture of the Sikh faith, and is looked upon as the inspired Word of God. It is also venerated as Guru or holy Teacher, Guide and is the presiding Presence in every Sikh place of worship. Its contents are hymns of God-consciousness, loving devotion and deep moral reflections. Among its contributors are six of the Gurus of Sikhism and a number of medieval Indian, Saints, drawn from different denominations and castes. In the regional its language is medieval Hindi and Punjabi, with terminology drawn from several languages of Northern India and from Arabic and Persian. The present English translation, while following closely the original text has attempted to make its expression rhythmic and soulful. It is intended to serve as the basis for further renderings into Indian and foreign languages of the Scripture. With this last volume, the whole of Guru Granth Sahib becomes available to the English speaking world in its spiritual grandeur. This four-volume set will also help scholars to uncover different aspects of successful scriptual transcreaton.


The present English translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib was called forth by a reiterated desire voiced over the years in the Syndicate of the Punjabi University that the University, equipped with a department devoted to the study of the holy Granth Sahib, its philosophy and other aspects related to the elucidation of its message, also undertake a new English translation of the sacred Volume. Such a translation was intended to serve as a definitive version for further renderings  of the holy Book, complete or in parts, in other languages, Indian and foreign. It was felt that despite the existence of several English renderings from the Book, there was scope for a fresh attempt at presenting the volume in English, keeping the translation close to the original text in minute detail, in languages that should be satisfying  from the point of view of accuracy and as far as possible, of felicity. It was in this background that this undertaking was assigned early in 1977 to the present writer.

An added motivation was provided by the fact of the study of Sikhism now for some time being undertaken in different parts of the world by scholars and academicians, most of whom can approach the basic writings of Sikhism only in  translation. A good, authentic translation, suggestive of the deeper layers of the meaning and appeal of Gurubani was therefore, called forth. Within India itself, including the younger generation among the Sikhs, who are attuned to study under certain systems, the approach to the teachings of Sikhism via English is a convenient and motivating factor. Many settled outside Punjab within India, may similarly find Hindi a convenient medium. Such efforts do not however, dispense with the need to acquire a knowledge of the Gurmukhi script as also of the Punjabi language, but their utility in stimulating the study of Sikhism is undoubted. It may be mentioned that generations of Sikhs are now growing up in Great Britain, the United States and Canada and many other countries cut off from Punjabi and Punjab, who neverthless must be provided the basic knowledge of Sikhism. In addition to these are the neo-Sikhs of foreign races, particularly in the United States, to whom a  closer knowledge of Sikhism must be brought.

While making this translation, which has inevitably taken a number of years to complete, the background and the objectives indicated above have been kept steadily in view. The perceptive reader will not miss certain specific features and emphasis of the translated text. Certain principles that have been kept in view in making the translation, may here be briefly stated.

Attempt has been made to render closely the original text in detail, taking into account the verbal nuances, the vision  enshrined in it and the sensitive poetic features. Along with the features just mentioned, an unobtrusive rhythmic structure has been adopted for the translated text, to aid an emotional and imaginative approach to the original, which is meant to inspire and arouse the self to attempt to live the spiritual experience.

In finding parallels for concepts and philosophical terms their signification in the relevent philosophical systems is kept in view. Terms drawn from the Hindu, Yogic and other systems are given their corresponding parallels, which when necessary, are clarified in the footnotes. The footnotes touch upon the philosophical and linguistic issues involved, and make for greater clarity of understanding.For the Supreme Being, according to the context, usually The Lord has  been used. Original forms of the attributive names of God, whether from the Indian background or the Perso-Arabian are indicated and explicated in the footnotes wherever required by the context. The same is true of concepts. For Guru and its synonyms Master, Preceptor and less often, Enlightener is used. All shades of differences of signification wherever arising, are accounted for and dealt with in the footnotes. The translated text, while it should guide in making for the spiritual approach to the Bani, should also be of use where in addition, hints for a scholarly or academic study are sought for. For the supreme Being the pronoun He, with the capital 'H' and its other forms like 'His' and 'Him' are used. So also 'Thou', 'Thee', 'Thy' and 'Thine'. In compositions with the spiritual cast as Gurubani, to keep the aura of the original such forms of expressions are helpful. For the more significant concepts like Maya, Word (Shabad), Ordinance (Hukum) the initial capital letter is given. 'Jam', the current form of the name of the god of Death in Punjabi , is rendered as 'Yama' for wider recognition. This would also apply to other classical names and concepts.

While for transliteration of the text a key is given below, for the writing down of proper classical names and concepts the system prevalent in Indian scholarship is partly adopted. Certain names like Rama, Krishna and Shiva are familiar to the average student of Indian religious thought in the forms given just now. To omit their end-vowel would only create confusion. There is no fear of these names being pronounced as Rama, Krishna and Shiva. For the elongated 'ah' sound the diacritical sign as indicated here, is provided where necessary. So also in raga and amrita. 'Mana' for mind has to be distinguished from man (male human being) and so is set down as indicated. Similarly with some other classical terms like moha (illusion, attachment). In Guru and Nanak the diacritical marks are not given, as these two words and their correct pronunciation are assumed to be familiar to every reader. Where 'Guru' occurs as part of a compound formation, as in 'Gurubani' , 'Gurumukh', the second 'u' in 'Guru' should be taken to be silent. In the original Gurmukhi the vowel sign in this part is omitted. The translated text being intended for study as much by those unfamiliar with the Sikh background as by Sikhs, some of these hints and concessions to established usage have been deemed necessary.

Pages of the standard 1430-page printed texts of Guru Granth Sahib are indicated in the right-hand side of the margin of the translated text. This will facilitate the tracing of the text of each hymn from the holy Book in its original form as well as establishing the correct parallels as adopted. The numbering of the hymns is as in the original text. This process of identification is further helped by the first lines of the 'Shabads' being given in transliterating at the head of the translated text in each case. In  transliterating these first lines the correct pronunciation of the original , as far as available and authenticated, has been adopted as the base. For indicating the long and short vowels, diacritical  marks, as shown in the Hints to follow, have been adopted. So also for the nasal sounds which usually are not indicated in the original text, but are to be pronounced for obtaining the correct form of the words. For Rahau, occurring everywhere in the original text, the term 'Pause' has been used, as by the earlier translators. A difficulty is presented by Ghar as a musical term. For this the paralleld adopted is 'Score', which is the term used for notation in writing out music in the Western tradition. A detailed understanding of Ghar is a matter for the higher study of the science of musicology.

Under the Ragas in the translated text, the sub-heading of groups of Shabads, indicating the authorship, the Ghar and other details are given before each group. Indicating the authorship of each Shabad as in the original has been dispensed with, and is to be understood to apply to the entire group.

Before closing, the present writer must acknowledge his debt to the late Bhai Jodh Singh, former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala and a profound scholar of Sikhism, who went through the translated text and discussed with him all controversial points of interpretation. From his ninety-fifth year on when this work went under way, for five years till his last days, he never spared any pains in the task that he had been persuaded to take upon himself. With this collaboration, the translation may claim a great degree of authenticity. In the course of th discussions with him, reference was constantly made to the exegetical works on Gurubani, some of which are mentioned in the Introduction, and all issues settled with a view to achieving accuracy. The final shaping of the language and its tone has been mainly the responsibility of the present writer.

In helping the process of printing this volume, whole-hearted encouragement has come from Dr. S. S. Johl, the present Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala. The proprietor of the Phulkian Press, Shri Jagdish Roy Mangla and the Head of the Publication Bureau of the University, Sardar Hazara Singh and his staff have handled painstakingly a somewhat difficult printing assignment , for which thanks are due to them.

The present volume will at short intervals be followed by three successive volumes till the complete text of Sri Guru Granth Sahib in translation is made available.

Baisakhi-13 April, 1984  

Introduction to the Book of 'Sri Guru Granth Sahib - English Translation' By Gurbachan Singh Talib


'Granth', which is derived from the Sanskrit, implies like 'Koran' and 'Bible' a book -the Book par excellence. Unlike some other scriptures, it is neither history nor mythology, nor a collection of incantations. Its contents are spiritual poetry, the vision of the cosmic order and exhortation to the higher life. In that respect it is a unique scripture among the source books of religion. It remains unique in consisting solely of the meditations of God-inspired men, who have communicated the Divine Word in a spirit of deep humility and compassion for mankind.

This holy Scripture of the Sikh faith, called variously Sri Adi Granth (Primal Scripture), Granth Sahib (the holy Granth) and Guru Granth Sahib is not looked upon by the the followers of the Sikh faith in the aspect only of a book or scripture, but as the embodiment in visible form of the essence of the Person of the Ten holy Gurus. Being the repository of the Divine Word (Shabad, Nam) it is offered worship and not mere veneration. In the religious assemblies of the Sikhs, the holy Granth is the presiding Presence; all who enter,  bow before it and make offerings, which may range from the humblest token of a copper coin to large sums of money or commodities. These offerings are believed to be made to the holy Guru, and are intended to be utilized for the accomplishment of religious objectives and philanthropic purposes. Wherever the holy Granth is kept in state, with an attendant waving the fly-whisk (chanwar) over it, and recitation and Kirtan (holy music) and other due ceremonial performed , that spot becomes for that occasion a Gurudwara (Guru's Portal, a Sikh Temple). In the Sikh Temples the Granth Sahib is kept , brought out in state, prayers offered in its presence and at night-time taken to a duly appointed place for 'retirement'. It is thus, treated as a sacred Person, the Guru, rather than as merely a book. Over it is spread a canopy or awning, to mark its sacred character, partaking of the ceremonial due to royalty. All must sit with folded hands and in a prayerful attitude of reverence in its presence; no action or gesture smacking of levity or casualness is permitted. No one may sit in its presence on a raised seat, such even as a cushion, but all must squat on the floor, which may be spread with cotton mattresses, or rich carpets. Where these are not available, even simple straw may be spread, as in large rural religious assemblies. All must offer prayer standing before it with folded hands . Thanksgiving for a joyous event or prayers for the peace of the peace of the departed must alike be offered in its presence. No Sikh marriage can be sanctified except in its presence, with the bride and bridegroom circumambulating it reverently, while the nuptial hymns from its pages are being chanted. Its affirmations may be invoked for blessing or as oracles to guide the devoted seekers in situations demanding solemnity in thought and action. Such a practice is resorted to all over the Sikh world.

The conveyance of the holy Volume from one place to another too is attended by a ceremonial. Usually it is carried over short distances on a man's head, with a number of persons in attendance, chanting hymns and someone sprinkling ordinary or perfumed water in front. If carried over a larger distance, it must be placed reverently on a carriage or lorry, or in a car, with the attendants taking off their shoes as a mark of reverence. It may be carried at the head of a procession, placed on an elephant's open howdah or on some other elevation. Sikh religious occasions are generally marked by largely attended processions, chanting hymns and carrying in front on a properly decorated mount or vehicle the Granth Sahib.

Where Sikhs gather to consider solemn issues concerning religion or the welfare of the community or ton resolve some crisis, there too the holy Granth Sahib may preside. All decisions taken in its presence are held sacred and binding on the faithful. The principal Sikh religious ceremonial consists in making a complete recitation of the Granth Sahib over a number of days, usually a week or ten days, concluded with the holding of congregational prayers, chanting of sacred hymns (kirtan) and distribution of grace-offerings (Karah Prasad). This ceremony is called Bhog (lit. partaking). Since recent times a non-stop recitation of the Scripture (Akhand path) followed by Bhog has come largely into vogue. To offer thanksgiving or to seek blessing, to sanctify the memory of the dead or in general to express devotion,such recitations are held. For these, properly trained priests (granthis, pathis) are called in and at the conclusion charities disbursed.

About the Author 'Professor Gurbachan Singh Talib' of the Book 'Sri Guru Granth Sahib - English Translation'

Professor Gurbachan Singh Talib (b. 1911-1986) was Principal of Lyallpur Khalsa College, Jullundur and Khalsa College, Bombay, Later he was Head, Guru Nanak Chair, Panjab University, Chandigarh and Banaras Hindu University. He retired as Head, Guru Gobind Singh Department of Religious Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala. He had written several books on the teachings of Sikhism.

Author Gurbachan Singh Talib
Cover Hardbound
Volumes 4
Language English

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