Selections from the sacred writings of the sikhs


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This work is part of the Indian Series of the Translations Collection of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is published in accordance with an agreement between UNESCO and the Government of India, and as part of the Organization’s ‘Major Project’ for furthering mutual appreciation of the cultural values of East and West.


Hymns of Guru Nanak Khushwant Singh

Legands of Devi Sukumari Bhattacharji

The Ramayana Lakshmi Lal

The Mahabharata Shanta Rameshwar Rao

In Worship of Shiva Shanta Rameshwar Rao

Silappadikaram and Manikekalai Lakshmi Holmstrom


Tercentenary Edition (Paperback)







Orient Longman

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First published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1960

First Indian Paperback Edition published by

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To the Memory of


(b. December 5, 1872 – d. June 10, 1957)

who devoted his whole Life to

The exposition of Sikh Scriptures



This translation is the first that has made the Adi Granth accessible, in more than short extracts, to the English-speaking public. Its publication is therefore an important event in the history of the now rapidly increasing contact between different peoples and civilizations in the fields of literature, religion, and other provinces of spiritual life. The Adi Granth is part of mankind’s common spiritual treasure. It is important that it should be brought within the direct reach of as many people as possible. Few readers of English will have had the opportunity of hearing the Adi Granth being chanted in the Golden Temple of the Sikh religion at Amritsar; and few, again, of those who have heard the chanting have been in a position to understand its meaning. Here is the book in English. Readers of English can now not merely read it put ponder over it. A book that has meant, and means, so much to such a notable community as the Sikh Khalsa deserves close study from the rest of the world.

The Adi Granth is remarkable for several reasons. Of all known religious scriptures, this book is the most highly venerated. It means more to Sikhs than even the Qur’an means to Muslims, the Bible to Christians, and the Torah to Jews. The Adi Granth is the Sikhs’ perpetual guru (spiritual guide). It was formally invested with this function by the last in the series of the human gurus that began with the founder of the Sikh religion, Nanak.

Perhaps Nanak himself would have modestly disclaimed the title of ‘founder. ‘ He might have preferred to say that he was merely bringing to light, and gathering together, the cardinal religious truths and precepts that had been scattered in explicit form or implicitly, through the religious legacies of a number of forerunners of his. For Nanak the fundamental truth was that, for a human being, the approach to God lies through self-abnegation; and this is indeed the chief message of most of the higher religions that have made their appearance up to date.

Nearly all the higher religions that count in the world today — in fact, all of them except Zoroastrianism-have originated in one or other of two regions: India and South-West Asia. The Indian and the Judaic religions are notoriously different in spirit; and, where they have met, they have sometimes behaved like oil and vinegar. Their principal meeting-ground has been India, where Islam has impinged on Hinduism violently. On the whole, the story of the relations between these two great religions on Indian ground has been an unhappy tale of mutual misunderstanding and hostility. Yet, on both sides of this religious barrier, there has been a minority of discerning spirits who have seen that. at bottom, Hinduism and Islam are each an expression of the same fundamental religious truth, and that these two expressions are therefore reconcilable with each other and are of supreme value when brought into harmony. The Sikh religion might be described, not inaccurately, as a vision of this Hindu-Muslim common ground. To have discovered and embraced the deep harmony underlying the historic Hindu-Muslim discord has been a noble spiritual triumph; and Sikhs may well be proud of their religion’s ethos and origin.

This religion is the creation of ex-Hindu religious inquirers who adopted monotheism and rejected caste under the inspiration of Islam. The greater part of the Adi Granth consists of hymns written by Nanak and the gurus who succeeded him until the succession of human gurus was closed in favour of their holy book. But the Adi Granth is a catholic anthology. It also includes hymns written by earlier Indian seers in whom Nanak and his successors recognized kindred spirits; and some of these contributors to the Granth are Hindus, while others are Muslims. Their writings have found a place in the Adi Granth because the compilers of it held, and this surely with good reason, that these seers were Sikhs in fact, though they lived and wrote before the Sikh religion took institutional form. They were Sikhs because they brought out and emphasized the universal spiritual truths contained in their respective religious traditions; and these truths belong to all ages and to all faiths.

Mankind’s religious future may be obscure; yet one thing can be foreseen: the living higher religions are going to influence each other more than ever before, in these days of increasing communication between all parts of the world and all branches of the human race. In this coming religious debate, the Sikh religion, and its scriptures the Adi Granth, will have something of special value to say to the rest of the world. This religion is itself a monument of creative spiritual intercourse between two traditional religions whose relations have otherwise not been happy. This is a good auguxy.


Literature is inseparable from the theory of religion just as religion and morality are inseparable from the verities of a people’s ideology. While the text of Guru Granth Sahib is embedded in the revealed wisdom of Gurus and saints who lived in the medieval era, its message has a timeless quality and universal appeal. As the repository of the Sikh ideology, Guru Granth explains the basic relationship between human consciousness and social imperatives. Guru Nanak perceived the world as Dharmasal — the arena of duty, an opportunity for social and moral activism, which eventually sublimated in the Khalsa ideal, the saint warrior in the service of God. Sikh activism lays great store by the dignity of labour and the need for sharing. Indeed the 1430 pages of the holy scripture encompass the eternal quest for such an ideal society. Its hymns of rare beauty and lyricism constantly return to the theme of light, love and life of altruism and participation.

It is appropriate that this new edition of the UNESCO-sponsored volume of The Sacred Writings of The Sikhs coincides with the Tercentenary of the Khalsa, aiming at a wider religious discourse and greater integration of moral values in our daily lives. This edition would not have been possible without the endorsement and support of the Director General, UNESCO and his special adviser, Mr Madanjeet Singh.

SARAN SINGH Editor, The Sikh Reuiew

Calcutta: 25 December, 1998.


UNESCO entrusted the task of translating a selection of the Sacred Writings of the Sikhs to the Sahitya Akademi (Indian Academy of Letters). In pursuance of this mission the Akademi called a meeting of eminent Sikh Scholars, under the Presidentship of Dr S. Radhakrishnan, Vice-President of the Indian Republic. Amongst those who attended the meeting and advised in the selection of translators and hymns was the venerable poet, the late Dr Bhai Vir Singh. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of S. B. Teja Singh, retired Chief Justice of High Court, and a panel of translators whose names appear in this book was chosen. Dr Trilochan Singh was the convener of this committee. The translations were revised from the point of view of English style by G. S. Fraser, working with Khushwant Singh.

This volume is the fruit of the joint labours of the most eminent Sikh theologians and scholars of the day and is the first publication of what might be described as an authorized English version of some of the Sacred Hymns of the Sikh scriptures.

UNESCO Sahitya Akademi








1. The Hymns of Guru Nanak 27

2. Hymns of Guru Angad Dev 120

3. Hymns of Guru Amar Das 125

4. Hymns of Guru Ram Das 141

5. Hymns of Guru Arjan Das 154

6. Hymns of Guru Tegh Bahadur 205

7. Hymns of the ‘Pre-Nanak Saints’ 211

8. Hymns of the ‘Contemporary Saints’ 248



9. Hymns of Guru Gobind Singh 266


The sudden widening of the spatial horizon has widened at the same time the horizons of the mind. There is an eagerness to know the ideas and beliefs by which other people live. This translation of a few selections from the Adi Granth is a small attempt towards the better understanding of other peoples’ ideas and convictions.

The Adi Granth, which is regarded as the greatest work of Punjabi literature, is largely the work of Guru Arjan, the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus.1 He brought together the writings of the first four Gurus and those of the Hindu and Muslim saints from different parts of India. Guru Arjan’s successors made a few additions and the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, said that there would be no more Gurus and the Granth should be regarded as the living voice of all the prophets: Guru-Vani. William Penn says: ‘There is something nearer to us than scriptures, to wit, the word in the heart from which all scriptures come.’ ]apji says: ‘gurmukh nadam gurmukh vedam,’ ‘the Word of the Guru is the music which the seers hear in their moments of ecstasy; the Word of the Guru is the highest scripture. By communion with the Word we attain the vision unattainable.’ Guru Arjan says that the BOOK is the abode of God: ‘pothi paramesvar ka than.’ The hymns are set to music. We find in Adi Granth a wide range of mystical emotion, intimate expressions of the personal realization of God and rapturous hymns of divine love. The Sikh creed includes belief in the ten Gurus and the Adi Granth.

  1. 1. Guru Nanak, 1469-1539. 6. Guru Har Govind, 1595-1644.

  2. 2. GuruAngad, 1504-1552. 7. Guru Har Rai, 1630—1661.

  3. 3. GuruAmar Das, 1479-1574. 8. Guru Harkishan, 1656-1664,

  4. 4. Guru Ram Das, 1534-1581.9. Guru Tegh Bahadur, 1621-1675.

  5. 5. Guru Arjan, 1563-1606. 10. Guru Gobind Singh, 1666-1708

2. The Adi Granth includes hymns by Farid (twelfth century), Beni (twelfth century), Jaideva (twelfth century), Sadhna (thirteenth century), Trilochan (b. 1267), Namdeva (thirteenth century), Ramanand (1360-1450), Sain (1390-1440), Pipa (b. 1425), Kabir (1440-1518), Ravidas (fifteenth century), Dhanna (early sixteenth century), Bhikan (d. 1573), Sardas (b. 1528), Parmananda, a disciple of Ramanand.

A remarkable feature of the Adi Granth is ,that it contains the writings of the religious teachers of Hinduism, Islam, etc.

This is in consistency with the tradition of India which respects’ all religions and believes in the freedom of the human spirit. Indian spiritual tradition is not content with mere toleration. There can be no goodwill or fellowship when we only tolerate each other. Lessing, in his Nathan the Wise, rebuked the habit of condescending toleration. We must appreciate other faiths, recognize that they offer rich spiritual experiences and encourage sacrificial living and inspire their followers to a noble way of life. The Sikh Gurus who compiled the Adi Granth had this noble quality of appreciation of whatever was valuable in other religious traditions. The saints belong to the whole world. They are universal men, who free our minds from bigotry and superstition, dogma and ritual, and emphasize the central simplicities of religion. The great seers of the world are the guardians of the inner values who correct the fanaticisms of their superstitious followers.

The Hindu leaders neglected to teach the spiritual realities to the people at large who were sunk in superstition and materialism. Religion became confused with caste distinctions and taboos about eating and drinking. The Muslims were also victims of superstition and some of their leaders were afflicted with the disease of intolerance.I Saints arose in different parts of the country, intent on correcting the injustices and cruelties of society and redeeming it: Jnanesvar, Namdev, and Eknath in Maharashtra, Narsingh Mehta in Gujerat, Caitanya in Bengal, Kabir in Uttar Pradesh, Vallabhacarya in Andhra and others. All these stirred the people with a new feeling of devotion, love and humanity. They stressed that one’s religion was tested not by one’s beliefs but by one’s conduct. No heart which shuts out truth and love can be the abode of God.

At a time when men were conscious of failure, Nanak appeared to renovate the spirit of religion and humanity. He did not found a new faith or organize a new community. That was done by his successors, notably the fifth Guru. Nanak tried to build a nation of self-respecting men and women, devoted to God and their leaders, filled with a sense of equality and brotherhood for all.

1 Nanak wrote: ‘The age is a knife. Kings are butchers. They dispense justice when their palms are filled. Decency and laws have vanished, falsehood stalks abroad. Then came Babar to Hindustan. Death disguised as a Moghul made war on us. There was slaughter and lamentation. Did not thou, O Lord, feel the pain?’
The Gurus are the light-bearers to mankind. They are the messengers of the timeless. They do not claim to teach a new doctrine but only to renew the eternal wisdom. Nanak elaborated the views of the Vaisnava saints. His best-known work is Jap Sahib or Japji, the morning prayer. Guru Arjan’s popular composition is Sukhmani.

The Sikh Gurus transcend the opposition between the personal and the impersonal, between the transcendent and the immanent. God is not an abstraction but an actuality. He is Truth, formless nirguna, absolute, eternal, infinite, beyond human comprehension. He is yet revealed through creation and through grace to anyone who seeks Him through devotion. He is given to us as a Presence in worship. The ideas we form of Him are intellectualizations of that presence. A great Muslim saint observed: ‘Who beholds me formulates it not and who formulates me beholds me not. A man who beholds and then formulates is veiled from me by the formulation.’ It is the vice of theology to define rather than to express, to formulate rather than to image or symbolize the indefinable. Silence is the only adequate expression of that which envelops and embraces us. No word, however noble, no symbol, however significant, can communicate the ineffable experience of being absorbed in the dazzling light of the Divine. Light is the primal symbol we use, of a consciousness ineffably beyond the power of the human mind to define or limit. The unveiled radiance of the sun would be darkness to the eye that strives to look into it. We can know it only by reflection, for we are ourselves a part of its infinite awareness.

Muhammad adopted the rigid monotheism from Judaism. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.1 Ramananda was hostile to the worship of images. If God is a stone I will worship a mountain. Kabir says:

The images are all lifeless, they cannot speak:

I know, for I have cried aloud to them.

The Purana and the Quran are mere words:

Lifting up the curtain, I have seen.2

1 Exodus xx. 3-4.

2 Rabindranath Tagore’s English translation.

Nanak was greatly impressed by the monotheism of Islam and denounced image worship. One God who is just, loving, righteous, who is formless and yet the creator of the universe, who desires to be worshipped through love and righteousness that is the belief that has dominated Sikhism. When at the temple of Jagannath, Nanak saw the worship in which lights were waved before the image and flowers and incense were presented on gold salvers studded with pearls, he burst into song:

The sun and moon, O Lord, are Thy lamps; the firmament

Thy salver and the oils of the stars the pearls set therein.

The perfume of the sandal tree is Thy incense; the wind

Is Thy fan, all the forests are Thy flowers, 0 Lord of light.

God is not limited to anyone incarnation but sends His messengers from time to time, to lead struggling humanity towards Him. It is the law of the spiritual world that whenever evil and ignorance darken human affairs, morality and wisdom will come to our rescue.l

The Guru is the indwelling Divine who teaches all through the gentle voice of conscience. He appears outside in human form to those who crave for a visible guide. The enlightener is the inner self. Nanak is, for the Sikhs, the voice of God arousing the soul to spiritual effort. Faith in the Guru is adopted by both the Hindus and the Muslim sufis. The latter emphasize the need of a teligious teacher, Pir, to guide the initiate in prayer and meditation. The Gurus are human and not divine. They are not to be worshipped. Guru Gobind Singh says: ‘Whosoever regards me as Lord shall be damned and destroyed . . . I am but the servant of God.’

God alone is real. The world is real because God animates it and is found through it. The created world is not in an absolute sense. It arises from God and dissolves into Him. How came the Changeless to create a world of change? How did the One go forth into the many? If the one is compelled to create, it suffers from imperfection and insufficiency. But total perfection cannot have this insufficiency. The question assumes that the Eternal at one moment of time began the task of creation. But Eternity has no beginning and no end. If its nature is to

1 See Bhagavadgita iv. 7-8. (With Sanskrit text, translation and commentary by S. Radhakrishnan; Allen & Unwin, London, 1948.)

create, it eternally creates. The idea of a God absorbed in self-contemplation and then for some unknown reason rousing Himself to create a universe is but a reflection of our human state. We alternate between activity and rest, between inertia and excitement. Divine beatitude consists in a simultaneous union of contemplation and of act of self-awareness and of self-giving. A static perfection is another name for death. Nanak looks upon the creative power of the Supreme as maya. It is integral to the Supreme Being.


The way to the knowledge of God is through self-surrender. It is not ceremonial piety; it is something inward in the soul. Those who, in the humility of a perfect self-surrender, have ceased to cling to their own petty egos are taken over by the superhuman Reality, in the wonder of an indescribable love. The soul rapt in the vision and possession of a great loveliness grows to its likeness. Surrender to God becomes easy in the company of a saintly teacher, a Guru.

Man is a child of God. He is mortal when he identifies himself with the perishable world and body. He can become immortal through union with God; until then he wanders in the darkness of the world. He is like a spark from the fire or a wave of the ocean. Tile individual comes forth from God, is always in Him as a partial expression of His will and at last, when he becomes perfect, manifests God’s will perfectly.

We have to tread the path which saints have trodden to direct union with the Divine. We have to tread the interior way, to pass through crises, through dark nights and ordeals of patience. Nanak says: ‘Yoga is not the smearing of ashes, is not the ear-rings and shaven beard, not the blowing of conches but it is remaining unspotted amidst impurity, thus is the contact with Yoga gained.’

Nanak was critical of the formalism of both the Hindus and the Muslims. He went to bathe in the Ganges as is usual with devout Hindus. When the Hindus threw water towards the rising sun as an offering to their dead ancestors, Nanak threw water in the opposite direction. When questioned, he said: ‘I am watering my fields in the Punjab. If you can throw water to the dead in heaven, it should be easier to send it to a place on earth.’ On another occasion, he fell asleep with his feet towards Mecca. An outraged Mulla drew his attention to it. Nanak answered: ‘If you think I show disrespect by having my feet towards the house of God, turn them in some other direction where God does not dwell.’ Nanak says: ‘To worship an image, to make a pilgrimage to a shrine, to remain in a desert, and yet have the mind impure is all in vain; to be saved, worship only the Truth.’ Nanak tells us: ‘Keep no feeling of enmity for anyone. God is contained in every bosom. Forgive ness is love at its highest power.’ Nanak says: ‘Where there is forgiveness there is God Himself.’

When Ajita Randhava asked Guru Nanak about ahimsa, Nanak replied:

  1. (1) Do not wish evil for anyone. This is ahimsa of thought.

  2. (2) Do not speak harshly of anyone. This is ahimsa of speech.

  3. (3) Do not obstruct anyone’s work. This is ahimsa of action.

  4. (4) If a man speaks ill of you, forgive him.

  5. (5) Practise physical, mental and spiritual endurance.

  6. (6) Help the suffering even at the cost of your life.

Belief in a separate self and its sufficiency is the original sin. Self-noughting is the teaching of the seers of all religions. Jesus says: ‘If any man would follow me, let him deny himself.’ Meister Eckhart declared that the Kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead. We should aim to escape from the prison of our selfhood and not to escape from the body which is the temple of God. Until we reach the end we will have other lives to pass through. No failure is final. An eventual awakening for all is certain.

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