Selections from the sacred writings of the sikhs


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Nanak and his followers believe in the doctrine of karma and rebirth. We are born with different temperaments. Some are greedy and possessive, others fretful and passionate. We come into the world bearing the impress of our past karma. Circumstances may stimulate these qualities. We may by our effort weaken the evil dispositions and strengthen the good ones. True happiness cannot be found in perishable things. It is found only in union with the Supreme. We are caught in the world of samsara or change, in the wheel of births and deaths because we identify ourselves with the physical organism and the environment. We can be freed from the rotating wheel of samsara by union with God attained through devotion. We must accept God as the guiding principle of our life. It is not necessary to renounce the world and become an ascetic. God is everywhere, in the field and the factory as in the cell and the monastery.

The Sikhs, like some other Vaisnava devotees who preceded them, denounce caste distinctions. Ramananda said:

Jati panthi pucchai nahi koi
hari ko bhaje so hari ka hoi.

Let no one ask of caste or sect; if anyone worships God then he is God’s. As God dwells in all creatures none is to be despised. When we become one with God through wholehearted surrender, we live our lives on earth as instruments of the Divine.

The aim of liberation is not to escape from the world of space and time but to be enlightened, wherever we may be. It is to live in this world knowing that it is divinely informed. To experience a timeless reality we need not run away from the world. For those who are no longer bound to the wheel of samsara, life on earth is centered in the bliss of eternity. Their life is joy and where joy is, there is creation. They have no other country here below except the world itself. They owe their loyalty and love to the whole of humanity. God is universal. He is not the God of this race or that nation. He is the God of all human beings. They are all equal in His sight and can approach Him directly. We must, therefore, have regard for other peoples and other religions.

Nanak strove to bring Hindus and Muslims together. His life and teaching were a symbol of the harmony between the two communities. A popular verse describes him as a Guru for the Hindus and a Pir for the Muslims.

Guru Nanak shah Fakir
Hindu ka Guru, Mussulman ka pir.


The transformation of the peaceful followers of Nanak into a militant sect was the work of the sixth Guru, Har Gobind and of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru. The tenth Guru converted the young community of disciples (Sikhs, sisyas) into a semi-military brotherhood with special symbols and sacraments for protecting them.

When his father Guru Tegh Bahadur was summoned by Emperor Aurangzeb who faced him with the alternative of conversion to Islam or death, he preferred death and left a message: I gave my head but not my faith.

sirr diya purr sirrar na diya.

His four sons also gave their lives in defence of their faith.

On the New Year Day in 1699, Guru Gobind initiated five of his followers known as Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones), into a new fraternity called the Khalsa or the Pure. Of these five, one was a Brahmin, one a Ksatriya and the others belonged to the lower castes. He thus stressed social equality. They all drank out of the same bowl and were given new names with the suffix Singh (Lion) attached to them. They resolved to observe the five K’s, to wear their hair and beard unshorn (Kes),1 to carry a comb in the hair (Kangha), to wear a steel bangle on the right wrist (Kara), to wear a pair of shorts (Kaccha), and to carry a sword (Kirpan). They were also enjoined to observe four rules of conduct (rahat), not to cut their hair, to abstain from smoking tobacco and avoid intoxicants, not to eat meat unless the animal has been slaughtered in the manner prescribed, and to refrain from adultery. A new script, a new scripture, new centres of worship, new symbols and ceremonies made Sikhism into a new sect, if not a new religion. What started as a movement of Hindu dissenters has now become a new creed.

It is, however, unfortunate that the barriers which the Sikh Guru laboured to cast down are again being re-created. Many pernicious practices against which they revolted are creeping into Sikh society. Worldly considerations are corrupting the great ideals. Religion which lives in the outer threshold of consciousness without conviction in the mind or love in the heart is utterly inadequate. It must enter into the structure of our life, become ‘a part of our being. The Upanisad says: He alone knows the truth who knows all living creatures as himself. The barriers of seas and mountains will give way before the call of eternal truth which is set forth with freshness of feeling and fervour of devotion in the A.di Granth.


1 Some Hindu ascetics do not cut their hair and beards.





Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, was born at Talwandi, a small village forty miles from Lahore (now in Pakistan). He was a moody, meditative child and even in his schooldays preferred the company of itinerant holy men to that of his schoolmates. His interest in religious discourse persisted in his youth and he abandoned one trade after another in pursuit of truth, and ultimately made it his sole mission in life. He left his wife and sons, and with a Muslim companion called Mardana, he traveled far and wide visiting places of pilgrimage and seeking the company of scholars and divines. His travels took him as far as Assam in the East, Ceylon in the South, Mecca in the West and Tibet in the North, and brought him into contact with many people including the first Mughal Emperor Babur.

During the last fifteen years of life, Nanak settled down in the town of Kartarpur and preached his faith. The disciples that gathered round him — Shishyas — became the Sikhs (Punjabi version of the Sanskrit word.)

Although Nanak had two sons, he chose a devoted disciple to take his place as spiritual successor.

There are 974 hymns by Guru Nanak in the Adi Granth.



(Morning Prayer)


ik onkiir satnam kartii purkh

There is one God,

Eternal Truth is His Name;
Maker of all things,
Fearing nothing and at enmity with nothing,
Timeless is His Image;
Not begotten, being of His own Being:
By the grace of the Guru, made known to men.
Jap: The Meditation








socai soc na hovai je soci lakhvar

It is not through thought that He is to be comprehended

Though we strive to grasp Him a hundred thousand times;
Nor by outer silence and long deep meditation
Can the inner silence be reached;
Nor is man’s hunger for God appeasable
By piling up world-loads of wealth.
All the innumerable devices of worldly wisdom
Leave a man disappointed; not one avails.
How then shall we know the Truth?
How shall we rend the veils of untruth away?
Abide thou by His Will, and make thine own,
His will, 0 Nanak, that is written in thy heart.

hukmi hovan akar, hukam na kehia jai

Through His Will He creates all the forms of things,
But what the form of His Will is, who can express?
All life is shaped by His ordering,
By His ordering some are high, some of low estate,
Pleasure and pain are bestowed as His Writ ordaineth.
Some through His Will are graciously rewarded,
Others must grope through births and deaths;
Nothing at all, outside His Will, is abiding.
O Nanak, he who is aware of the Supreme Will
Never in his selfhood utters the boast: ‘It is I’.


gavai ko tan hovai kisai tan

Those who believe in power,
Sing of His power;
Others chant of His gifts
As His messages and emblems;
Some sing of His greatness,
And His gracious acts;
Some sing of His wisdom
Hard to understand;
Some sing of Him as the fashioner of the body.
Destroying what He has fashioned;
Others praise Him for taking away life
And restoring it anew.
Some proclaim His Existence
To be far, desperately far, from us;
Others sing of Him
As here and there a Presence
Meeting us face to face.
To sing truly of the transcendent Lord

Would exhaust all vocabularies, all human powers of expression, Myriads have sung of Him in innumerable strains. His gifts to us flow in such plentitude That man wearies of receiving what God bestows; Age on unending age, man lives on His bounty; Carefree, a Nanak, the Glorious Lord smiles.


saca sahib sac nae bhakhya bhau a Par

The Lord is the Truth Absolute,
True is His Name.
His language is love infinite;
His creatures ever cry to Him;
‘Give us more, a Lord, give more’;
The Bounteous One gives unwearyingly.

What then should we offer

That we might see His Kingdom?
With what language
Might we His love attain?

In the ambrosial hours of fragrant dawn

Think upon and glorify
His Name and greatness.
Our own past actions
Have put this garment on us,
But salvation comes only through His Grace.

O Nanak, this alone need we know,

That God, being Truth, is the one Light of all.

5 thapai na jae Mta na hoe

He cannot be installed like an idol,
Nor can man shape His likeness.
He made Himself and maintains Himself
On His heights unstained for ever;
Honoured are they in His shrine
Who meditate upon Him.

Sing thou, a Nanak, the psalms

Of God as the treasury
Of sublime virtues.
If a man sings of God and hears of Him.
And lets love of God sprout within him,
All sorrow shall depart;
In the soul, God will create abiding peace.

The Word of the Guru is the inner Music;

The Word of the Guru is the highest Scripture;
The Word of the Guru is all pervading.
The Guru is Siva, the Guru is Vishnu and Brahma,
The Guru is the Mother goddess.

If I knew Him as He truly is

What words could utter my knowledge?
Enlightened by God, the Guru has unravelled one mystery
‘There is but one Truth, one Bestower of life;
May I never forget Him.’

6 tirath nhavan je tis bhavan

I would bathe in the holy rivers If so I could win His love and grace; But of what use is the pilgrimage If it pleaseth Him not that way? What creature obtains anything here Except through previous good acts? Yet hearken to the Word of the Guru And his counsel within thy spirit Shall shine like precious stone.

The Guru’s divine illumination Has unravelled one mystery; There is but one Bestower of life May I forget Him never.

7 je jug carai arja hor dasuni hoe

Were a man to live through the four ages,

Or even ten times longer,
Though his reputation were to spread over the nine shores,
Though the whole world were to follow in his train,
Though he were to be universally famous,
Yet lacking God’s grace, in God’s presence
Such a man would be disowned;
Such a man would be merely a worm among vermin
And his sins will be laid at his door.

On the imperfect who repent, a Nanak, God bestows virtue,

On the striving virtuous He bestows increasing blessedness.
But I cannot think there is any man so virtuous
Who can bestow any goodness on God.

8 suniai sidh pir sur nath

By hearkening to the Name
The disciple becomes a Master,
A guide, a saint, a seraph;
By hearkening to the Name
The earth, the bull that bears it
And the heavens are unveiled.

By hearkening to the Name

Man’s vision may explore
Planets, continents, nether regions.
Death vexes not in the least
Those that hearken to the Name;
They are beyond Death’s reach.

Saith Nanak, the saints are always happy;

By hearkening to the Name
Sorrow and sin are destroyed.


suniai isar barma ind

By hearkening to the Name Mortals obtain the godliness Of Siva, Brahma and lndra; By hearkening to the Name The lips of the lowly Arc filled with His praise.

By hearkening to the Name

The art of Yoga and all the secrets
Of body and mind are unveiled.
By hearkening to the Name
The Vedic wisdom comes,
And also the knowledge of the shastras and smritis.

Saith Nanak, the saints are always happy;

By hearkening to the Name
Sorrow and sin are destroyed.
10 suniai sat santokh gyan

Hearkening to the Name bestows

Truth, divine wisdom, contentment.
To bathe in the joy of the Name

Is to bathe in the holy places.

By hearing the Name and reading it
A man attains to honour;
By hearkening, the mind may reach
The highest blissful poise
Of meditation on God.
Saith Nanak, the saints are always happy;
By hearkening to the Name
Sorrow and sin are destroyed.
11 suniai sara guna ke gah

By hearkening to the Name,

Man dives deep in an ocean of virtues;
By hearkening to the Name
The disciple becomes an apostle,
A prelate, a sovereign of souls.

By hearkening to the Name

The blind man sees the way;
By hearkening to the Name
Impassable streams are forded.
Saith Nanak, the saints are always happy;
By hearkening to the Name
Sorrow and sin are destroyed.

manain M gat kahi na jae

Of him who truly believes in the Name Words cannot express the condition; He himself will later repent Should he ever try to describe it; No pen, no paper, no writer’s skill Can get anywhere really near it.

Such is the power of His stainless Name, He who truly believes in it, knows it.


manain sur! hovai man budh

Through belief in the Name
The mind soars high into enlightenment.
The whole universe stands self-revealed.
Through inner belief in the Name
One avoids ignorant stumbling;
In the light of such a faith
The fear of death is broken.
Such is the power of His stainless Name,
He who truly believes in it, knows it.


manain marag thak na pae

Nothing can bar or mar the paths

Of those who truly believe in the Name,
They depart from here with honour;
They do not lose the proper path.
The spirit of those imbued with faith
Is wedded to realization of truth.
Such is the power of His stainless Name,

He who truly believes in it, knows it.


manain pavai mokh duar

Those who have inner belief in the Name,
Always achieve their own liberation,
Their kith and kin are also saved.
Guided by the light of the Guru
The disciple steers safe himself,
And many more he saves;
Those enriched with inner belief
Do not wander begging.
Such is the power of His stainless Name,
He who truly believes in it, knows it.

panc parvan panc pardhan

His chosen are His saints, and great are they, Honoured are the saints in the court of God; The saints add lustre to the courts of the Lord. Their minds are fixed upon the Guru alone.

All that they say is wisdom, but by what wisdom

Can we number the works of the Lord?
The mythical bull is dharma: the offspring of Compassion
That holds the thread on which the world is strung.
Even a little common sense makes one understand this:
How could a bull’s shoulders uphold the earth?
There are so many earths, planets on planet.
What is that bears these burdens?
One ever-flowing pen inscribed the names
Of all the creatures, in their kinds and colours;
But which of us would seek to pen that record,
Or if we could, how great the scroll would be.
How can one describe Thy beauty and might of Thy Works?
And Who has power to estimate Thy Bounty, O Lord?
All creation emerging from Thy One Word,
Flowing out like a multitude of rivers.
How can an insignificant creature like myself
Express the vastness and wonder of Thy creation?
I am too petty to have anything to offer Thee;
I cannot, even once, be sacrifice unto Thee.
To abide by Thy Will, O Formless One, is man’s best offering;
Thou who art Eternal, abiding in Thy Peace”.


asankh jap asankh bhau

There is no counting of men’s prayers,

There is no counting their ways of adoration.
Thy lovers, O Lord, are numberless;
Numberless those who read aloud from the Vedas;
Numberless those Yogis who are detached from the world;

Numberless are Thy Saints contemplating,

Thy virtues and Thy wisdom;
Numberless are the benevolent, the lovers of their kind.

Numberless Thy heroes and martyrs

Facing the steel of their enemies;
Numberless those who in silence
Fix their deepest thoughts upon Thee;
How can an insignificant creature like myself
Express the vastness and wonder of Thy creation?
I am too petty to have anything to offer Thee;
I cannot, even once, be a sacrifice unto Thee.
To abide by Thy Will, O Lord, is man’s best offering;
Thou who art Eternal, abiding in Thy Peace.

asankh murakh andh ghor

There is no counting fools, the morally blind;
No counting thieves and the crooked,
No counting the shedders of the innocent blood;
No counting the sinners who go on sinning;
No counting the liars who take pleasure in lies;
No counting the dirty wretches who live on filth;
No counting the calumniators
Who carry about on their heads their loads of sin.
Thus saith Nanak, lowliest of the lowly:
I am too petty to have anything to offer Thee;
I cannot, even once, be a sacrifice unto Thee.
To abide by Thy Will, O Lord, is man’s best offering;
Thou who art Eternal, abiding in Thy Peace.

asankh nam asankh tham

Countless are Thy Names, countless Thine abodes;
Completely beyond the grasp of the imagination
Are Thy myriad realms;
Even to call them myriad is foolish.

Yet through words and through letters

Is Thy Name uttered and Thy praise expressed;
In words we praise Thee,
In words we sing of Thy virtucs.

It is in the words that we write and speak about Thee,

In words on man’s forehead
Is written man’s destiny,
But God who writes that destiny
Is free from the bondage of words
As God ordaineth, so man receiveth.
All creation is His Word made manifest;
Except in the Light of His Word There is no way.
How can an insignificant creature like myself
Express the vastness and wonder of Thy creation?
I am too petty to have anything to offer Thee;
I cannot, even once, be a sacrifice unto Thee.
To abide by Thy Will, O Lord, is man’s best offering;
Thou who art Eternal, abiding in Thy Peace.

bhariai hath pair tan deh

When the hands, feet and other parts
Of the body are besmeared with filth,
They are cleansed with water;
When a garment is defiled
It is rinsed with soapsuds;
So when the mind is polluted with sin,
We must scrub it in love of the Name.
We do not become sinners or saints,
By merely saying we are;
It is actions that are recorded;
According to the seed we sow, is the fruit we reap.
By God’s Will, O Nanak,
Man must either be saved or endure new births.


tirath tap daya dat dan

Pilgrimages, penances, compassion and almsgiving
Bring a little merit, the size of sesame seed.
But he who hears and believes and loves the Name
Shall bathe arid be made clean
In a place of pilgrimage within him.
All goodness is Thine, O Lord, I have none;
Though without performing good deeds
N one can aspire to adore Thee.
Blessed Thou the Creator and the Manifestation,
Thou art the word, Thou art the primal Truth and Beauty,
And Thou the heart’s joy and desire.

When in time, in what age, in what day of the month or week In what season and in what month did’st Thou create the world? The Pundits do not know or they would have written it in the Puranas; The Qazis do not know, or they would have recorded it in the

Koran; Nor do the Yogis know the moment of the day, Nor the day of the month or the week, nor the month nor the

season. Only God Who made the world knows when He made it.

Then how shall I approach Thee, Lord?

In what words shall I praise Thee?
In what words shall I speak of Thee?
How shall I know Thee?
O Nanak, all men speak of Him, and each would be wiser

than the next man; Great is the Lord, great is His Name, What He ordaineth, that cometh to pass, Nanak, the man puffed up with his own wisdom Will get no honour from God in the life to come.


patala patal lakh agasa agas

There are hundreds of thousands of worlds below and above

ours, And scholars grow weary of seeking for God’s bounds. The Vedas proclaim with one voice that He is boundless. The Semitic Books mention eighteen hundred worlds; But the Reality behind all is the One Principle.

If it could be written, it would have been,
But men have exhausted themselves in the effort;
O Nanak, call the Lord Great;
None but He knoweth, how great He is.

salahi salah eti surt na Paiai

Thy praisers praise Thee,
And know not Thy greatness;
As rivers and streams flow into the sea,
But know not its vastness.
Kings who possess dominions vast as the sea,
With wealth heaped high as the mountain,
Are not equal to the little worm
That forgetteth not God in its heart.

ant na sifti kehan na ant

Infinite is His Goodness, and infinite its praise;
Infinite are His Works and infinite His gifts;
Where are the bounds of His seeing or His hearing?
Unfathomable is the infinity of His Mind;
There are no bounds even to His creation.

How many vex their hearts to know

His limits But seeking to explore Infinity, can find no bounds;
The more we say, the more there is left to say;
High is our Lord and very High is His throne;
His holy Name is higher than the highest.
He that would know His height, must be of the same height;

Only the Lord knoweth the greatness of the Lord.

Saith Nanak, only by God’s grace and bounty
Are God’s gifts bestowed on man.

bahuta karm likhai na jae

Of His bounty one cannot write enough;
He is the great Giver, Who covets nothing;
How many mighty warriors beg at His door;
How many others, in numbers beyond reckoning.
Many waste His gifts in idle pleasure,
Many receive His gifts and yet deny Him;
Many are the fools who merely eat,
Many are always sorrowing and hungering;
Sorrow and hunger are also Thy gifts.
Liberation from bondage depends upon Thy Will;
There is no one to gainsay it;
Should a fool wish to,
Suffering will teach him wisdom.
The Lord knoweth what to give and He giveth;
Few acknowledge this. Those on whom He bestows,

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