All About The Guru Granth, Sikhism’s Holy Scripture
The Authors of Sikh Scripture:
The Sikh scripture has 1,430 pages in a single volume, called a Granth. The poetic hymns of the Granth are written by 43 authors in raag, a classical musical system of 31 raags, each corresponding to a particular time of day.
Fifth Guru Arjun Dev compiled the Granth. He collected hymns of Nanak Dev, Amar Das, Angad Dev, and Raam Das, assembled verses of enlightened Muslim and Hindu Bhagats, Bhatt Minstrels, and included his own compositions.
Tenth Gobind Singh added the compositions of his father Guru Tegh Bahadar to complete the Granth. At the time of his death in 1708, Guru Gobind Singh declared the Granth to be his successor for all time.
The Guru Granth:
The Guru Granth is the eternal Guru of the Sikhs and may never be replaced by a human being. The scripture is formally referred to as "Siri Guru Granth Sahib", meaning respected scripture of the supreme enlightener. The text is called Gurbani, or the Guru’s word. The original manuscripts of the Granth are hand written in the Gurmukhi script. The words are strung together to form an unbroken line. This ancient connected way of writing is called laridar meaning linked. Modern text separates individual words and is called pad ched, or cut text. Modern day publishers print the sacred scripture of Guru Granth both ways.
The Guru Granth at Rest:
The Guru Granth may be housed either in a public gurdwara or private home. After hours, or if no attendant is present during the day, the Guru Granth is ceremonially closed. A prayer is said and the Guru Granth is put into sukhasan, or peaceful repose. A soft light is kept on in the presence of the Guru Granth all night.
- In a gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, the Guru Granth is wrapped and kept beneath blankets or coverings, on a canopied bed in a separate room.
- In a private home, the Guru Granth may be wrapped and kept beneath a canopy on a small furnished cot in an adjacent, or partitioned area, or unused closet.
Attending to the Guru Granth:
Anyone who wishes to take responsibility for the care and handling of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib should bathe, wash their hair, and dress in clean clothing. No tobacco or alcohol may be on their person. Before touching or moving the Guru Granth, the attending person must cover their head, remove their shoes, and wash their hands and feet. The attendant should stand facing the Guru Granth with their palms pressed together. The formal prayer of Ardas must be recited. The attendant must take care that the Guru Granth never touches the ground.
Transporting the Guru Granth:
Attendants transport the Guru Granth from the sukhasan area to where prakash, the ceremonial opening of the wrappings covering the Granth is to take place.
- A single attendant covers their head with a turban, or scarf, and walks with the Guru Granth on their head.
- A group of attendants carry the Guru Granth in a litter on their shoulders. One walks ahead of a procession sprinkling water, or carrying a sword. Another follows behind waving a fly whisk over the Guru Granth.
- In a vehicle the Guru Granth may be covered, and placed on a cushion or cloth draping either on the seat, or the lap of an attendant.
Holidays and Festivals:
On commemorative occasions, holidays and festivals, the Guru Granth is transported in a litter, either on the shoulders of Sikh devotees, or atop a float, and paraded through the streets. The litter is garlanded with flowers and other decorations. While on a float, an attendant accompanies the Guru Granth at all times. Five initiated Sikhs, called the panj pyara, walk ahead of the procession carrying swords or banners. Devotees may walk ahead sweeping the streets, walk along side, follow behind, or ride on floats. Some devotees have musical instruments, and sing kirtan, or hymns, others put on marshal art displays.
Ceremonial Opening of the Guru Granth:
The Guru Granth is opened every day in a ceremony known as prakash. A prayer is done to invoke the jot, or living light of the Guru to manifest in the Granth. An attendant places the Guru Granth atop pillows on a cot draped with an embroidered rumala coverlet drapery over which a canopy is suspended. The attendant unfolds the rumala wrappings from the Guru Granth, then opens to a random page, while reciting verses of scripture. An ornamental rumala side cloth is placed between the pages and cover on both sides of the Granth. The open pages of the are covered with a matching embroidered coverlet.
The Guru’s Divine Order:
A Hukam, is a verse selected at random from the scripture of Guru Granth, and is considered to be the Gurus divine command. Prior to selecting the Hukam, an ardas, or prayer of petition, is always performed:
- When ceremoniously opening Guru Granth.
- At the conclusion of any Sikh worship service
- During ceremonies such as:
- A baptism or initiation.
- A wedding.
- A funeral.
- For any occasion important to a Sikh's life.
- Whenever guidance or comfort is sought.
- Before putting the Guru to rest.
- When selecting a Sikh name.
A specific protocol outlined by the Sikh code of conduct is to be followed whenever selecting and reading a hukamnama.
Reading the Guru Granth:
Reading the Guru Granth is an important part of a Sikh's life. Every Sikh man, woman, and child is encouraged to develop the habit of devotional reading, or paath:
- Learn to read the Gurmukhi script.
- Learn how to select and read a hukam.
- Read from the Guru Granth on a daily basis.
- Develop the capability and skill to read the entire Guru Granth.
Akhand paath is a continuous, unbroken, reading of scripture performed by a group taking turns, until completed.
Sadharan paath is a complete reading of scripture performed over any period of time, by an individual, or group.
Ceremonial Akhand and Sadharan Paath Protocol Illustrated
Researching the Guru Granth:
A variety of research and study materials exist to aid in learning the Gurmukhi alphabet. Interpretations and translations are widely available in Punjabi and English versions, both online and in print. For training purposes the scriptural text is divided into a two or more volumes senchi. For study purposes four or more volume sets called steeksare available. Some of these have the Gurmukhi script and comparative translations side by side. The Sikh scripture has been coded into English letters, and some other languages in order to aid pronunciation for those unable to read Gurmukhi script.
Reverence and Protocol:
Siri Guru Granth Sahib is to be maintained in an environment which is in keeping with the Sikh code of conduct. Edicts prohibit transporting the Guru Granth to any place which is not used strictly for worship purposes. Any place habitually used for parties, dancing, serving of meat or alcohol, and where smoking takes place, is off limits for any type of Sikh ceremony.
How to Set Up a Sacred Space for Sikh Scriptures
- Set up a place to keep Guru Granth Sahib in your home or gurdwara following illustrated instructions on how to make a portable altar and all necessary furnishings.
- Build and Assemble a Portable Altar for Guru Granth Sahib
- Furnish a Portable Altar with Cot, Cushions, Coverlet and Canopy
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By Sukhmandir Khalsa