Open Letter to Jathedar Bhai Ranjit Singh, Jathedar Sri Akal Takth Sahib, Amritsar

by R.S. Narula, Chief Justice (Retd.), Punjab & Haryana High Court
[Reproduced from Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Oct-Dec 1998]

Respected and Esteemed Jathedar Sahib ji,

I came away here to avoid the Delhi heat on May 31 and hope to stay here till the beginning of August. After returning to Delhi after a couple of days, I have to be at Tapowan in Amrawati with Sardar Bhagwant Singh Dalawari for about 3 weeks and may then go to London on August 29.

I am reminded of Shri Mohinder Mohan Chowdhry, Governor of Punjab (an Assamese Advocate). He once told me in 1976 of a research scholar from Amritsar giving his reply in his Ph.D. thesis, in the negative, to the question on which he was researching, viz., “Whether Sri Guru Nanak Dev ji did or did not visit Assam (Kamrup district)” on the basis of oral enquiries made by him in Guwahati ! Mr. Chowdhry told me that he was personally aware of entries existing in the “Bahis” of the Assamese “Pandas” about the visit of Guru Nanak from Punjab in the early sixteenth (or the end of 15th) century. He wondered how a scholar could do research on the subject without learning Assamese language and script, and associating with him a dedicated Assamese scholar.

Some years ago, I was approached by a scholar for advice as to the persons who should form a committee to scan through Sri Guru Granth Sahib and remove what he called ‘contradictions’ on different subjects and inconsistencies in spelling which had occurred due to writing the same word differently at different places. I gave him my mind and not only resolved the conflict in his mind rather than the supposed ‘conflict’ in Gurbani and also warned him that the project that he was thinking of, would be a fruitless blasphemy and put his life in danger.

On another occasion, I heard a sehajdhari bhagat reciting from a Hindi-cum-English Gutka where he pronounced ‘Jaai’ and ‘Hoi’ instead of ‘Jae’ and ‘Hoe’, ‘Tirath’ as ‘Tirthi’ and ‘Sati Namu’ in place of ‘Sat Naam’. (jwie, hoie, qIriQ Aqy siq nwmu dI QweyN jweI, hoeI, qIrQI qy sqI nwmU)

The translation in his Gutka was based on grammatical and not phonetic spellings. I told him that Hindi grammar does not apply to Sri Guru Granth Sahib which was studied and explained at length by late Principal Harbhajan Singh of Patiala. I also told him that the entire Gurbani spellings had been checked up by an expert committee of the S.G.P.C. when authenticating Gurbani in four volumes of Guru Granth Sahib. I also apprised him of regular camps held on the subject under the able guidance of experts by the Chandigarh Society known as “Dukhbhanjan Tera Naam” on the special grammar of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji.

I belong to Nankana Sahib, where I remained since my birth in 1915 till I passed matriculation in 1930. We (my father) had inherited several handwritten Pothis of Gurbani purporting to be “Granth Sahib”, “Pothi Granth Sahib”, etc. They did not agree with each other in many respects (e.g., in sequence, in spellings). I remember two of them reading “Bandar Bania” instead of “Band Rabania”. (bMd rbwxIAY dI QweyN bMdr bwxIAY)

Some years ago Giani Piar Singh of Guru Nanak Dev University made an objectionable research and came to certain conclusions on the basis of a handwritten pothi, which had been presented to and was being kept by Guru Nanak Dev University. He had to apologise for having done so. Before one relies on such unpublished documents, one must, I think, first satisfy oneself of its unquestioned authenticity, particularly of it’s author and source.

Though everyone is open to have his own views (e.g., the meaning assigned to certain shabads and Gurbani by Radhaswamis and Nirankaris), he has to be careful in distorting established versions, which may shake the faith and possibly change the meaning of the verse, without any practical advantage to the devotees. We have to remember that :

(i) In the name of standardising “Punjabi” and giving it a grammar on the assertion that it had no grammar of its own, some modern scholars are Sanskritising Punjabi to such an extent as to make it un-understandable to the common man.
(ii) Our holy Scripture is the only one in the world which contains actual words as uttered and pronounced by our Masters (Gurus) as they were recorded contemporarily, unlike the Bible which was written after Christ, Ramayan which was written after Ramchanderji and Quran Shareef which was brought into existence after Hazrat Mohammed Sahib.
(iii) Our Gurus were very learned and the language used by them was deliberately kept simple “spoken” dialect of different areas which everyone could understand and not necessarily strictly grammatical. “The language is predominantly medieval Hindi of Braj variety with variation of Punjabi and in general in verbal terms that are akin to the popular spoken forms.” (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, English Translation, by Prof. G.S. Talib and Principal Jodh Singh Vol. I, 1984 Edition).
(iv) Gurbani was not composed by the Gurus, but was revealed to them.
The aim of Gurbani is to tear the curtain of Bhrama between Him and us and not enter into meaningless academic discussions. I believe that we have no right to change any part of Gurbani to any extent for “improving” it, “correcting” its spellings, making it “grammatically correct” or for “reconciling” it or for any other purpose whatsoever according to our intelligence.

It is against the above background that I am submitting this note to you. I have now received here from a “Premi” a copy of the fifth edition of Bhai Joginder Singh’s Gurbani of the Ninth Guru Sahib in which the spellings of certain words are different from those in the current swaroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and certain words have been changed on the basis of undisclosed, unpublished material.

I have gone through the booklet from cover to cover (except pages 161 to 176, which are missing from the book and after excluding one set of pages 177 to 192, which are in duplicate in this volume).

I must say I am conscious of the facts regarding :

(a) The author’s sincerity, openness, earnestness, dedication and knowledge of Gurbani Viakaran and meanings.
(b) The interest which the devotees have evinced on the subject resulting in the 5th edition of the book having been published within a short span of 2 decades (1976-1998) without any known adverse comment from any person.
(c) The ability, knowledge and devotion of Bhai Sahib Kirpal Singh ji, the then head granthi of Shri Darbar Sahib, who has written the Foreword to the first edition.
(d) That the treatise is confined to the bani of the Ninth Guru, but such exercise is recommended by the author for the whole of the Gurbani.

My first reaction to the contents of the booklet is as follows :
1. The suggestion of the author in his introduction to the first edition of the book (bottom of page 8 and top of page 9) that it would be advisable to have the subject scrutinised by a committee of knowledgeable experts is thoughtful. I think if such a committee is ever formed, it should consist of :

a) A person well versed in different Raags and Raaginis in Shri Guru Granth Sahib, as a slight change in spelling and consequently in pronunciation may prove to be a hindrance in a particular shabad being sung in the particular Raag and the prescribed musical measures (Ghar.)
b) A philologist having knowledge of Punjabi cum Hindi cum Urdu languages and various dialects and versions of Punjabi and Braj Bhasha, Khari Boli, etc., in vogue during the 16th to 18th centuries in Jangli Ilaqa, Majha, Malwa, Doaba areas of Punjab and in Patna Sahib.
c) A Giani fully well versed with the real meaning of Gurbani and its grammar (Viakaran) and the difference in meanings of the same words with different vowel marks (lags and maatras), (e.g., Giani Sant Singh Maskeen).
d) At least one member of the last committee appointed by the S.G.P.C., who authenticated the present current version of Gurbani spellings.
e) Any Gursikh who may have honestly criticised the effort of the author; and
f) Bhai Sahib Joginder Singh Ji Talwara.

2. If, in spite of what is hereafter stated, some action in this behalf is considered advisable, care may be taken to avoid opening a Pandora’s box of conflicting views by the committee laying down its own guidelines like the following before embarking on the difficult project :

a) Any change in spelling or change of word would either change the meaning or would not do so. It is no use making any change if the meaning does not change. We have no right to change the meaning of Gurbani as so far understood for centuries.
b) Before relying on any un-published volume or pothi, its source, authenticity, time when it was written and particulars of writer must be established to assess its value. (Please refer to Para 3 below in this respect).
c) The language in which the bani was revealed to the Gurus must in no circumstances be changed.

3. Reliance for making any changes, howsoever insignificant, should be permitted only on the following :

(A) Unpublished handwritten pothis :

(i) Original pothi of first Guru’s bani handed over by him to Guru Angad Dev ji in 1539 AD.
(ii) The 2 pothis compiled by Sri Guru Amar Das ji during 1570-1572 AD in the handwriting of Baba Sahib Ram, son of Baba Mohan ji, grandson of the third Guru Sahib. The bani of several Bhagats was included. “Kabir” is written there as “Kamir” as that was the way his name was pronounced by the common man in the Punjab of those days. These 2 pothis are comprised of 300 and 224 leaves (total 1048 pages) with subsequent endorsement in the handwriting of Shri Guru Ram Dass ji (before his taking the Gurgaddi) at page 94 of Volume II, authenticated and signed by him as “Jetha Chand”. Those are available with the descendants of the third Guru Sahib in Goindwal Sahib.
(iii) The Gurbani Pothi presented by Bhagat Arora ji of Hasan Abdal to the 5th Guru, which pothi is stated to be still extant.
(iv) The 2 pothis which were obtained by the fifth Guru from and later returned to Baba Mohan ji. These are still in the possession of Bhalla Bawas. These became the matrix for the sacred volume compiled by Guru Arjun Dev ji.
(v) The Granth Sahib compiled by the fifth Guru Sahib in 1604 AD after including the 2 pothis and adding thereto bani of Shri Guru Ram Dass, his own bani and other selected verses of the first, third and fourth Gurus from the pothis secured by the Guru from Baba Mohan ji, the Gurbani collection presented to the Guru by Bhagat Arora of Hasan Abdal and formally checked and corrected by erasing with sulphur unacceptable bani of certain Bhagats and correcting some spellings. The compilation ended with Mundawani (seal to avoid addition) and Tera keeta Jato Nahi shabads. This volume is said to be comprised of 974 leaves and is in the possession of Bawas at Kartarpur Sahib. (Reference may be made to Professor Sahib Singh’s well-researched book Adi Beer Baare). It ends with endorsement Sudh Kichie and Mool Mantra on page 1 in the handwriting of the fifth Guru. This volume in the handwriting of Bhai Gurdas Ji has been declared authentic by Bhai Sahib Kahan Singh of Nabha, Bhai Jodh Singh and the S.G.P.C. (The heirs of Bhai Sahib Kahan Singh of Nabha, including Sardar Pari Pooran Singh Hair, I.F.S., have presented all the original literature on the subject to the Punjabi University, Patiala, where it is still available.
(vi) The handwritten “Shri Guru Granth Sahib” prepared at Damdama Sahib under the direction of Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji after including bani of the ninth Guru in about 1705.

(B) Printed and published help books :

(vii) Guru Girah Kosh by Pandit Tara Chand Narotam
(viii) Gurbani Kosh edited by Dr Bhai Veer Singh
(ix) Gurshabad Ratnakar by Bhai Kahan Singh of Nabha
(x) Adi Granth Shabad Anukramanika by Gurcharan Singh
(xi) Santhya Guru Granth Sahib by Bhai Veer Singh
(xii) Nirukta Sri Guru Granth Sahib by Dr Balbir Singh and
(xiii) Introduction to the English Translation of Guru Granth Sahib in 4 volumes published by the Pbi. Univ., Patiala.

4. Subject to what is stated above and your directions, my prima facie views of the changes suggested by the author are on the following lines :

a) The suggestion to change Mein (mY) (as at present) to Mahe (mih) as at page 18 of the book, propounded by the author may not serve any useful purpose as the meaning of both the expressions is almost the same. Mein (mY) in Urdu and in Sangrur area dialect (ibc / mY) appears to be more appropriate than Mahe (mih) at some places (e.g., at 2 places on page 18).
b) Using the word Kathin (kiTn) in place of Kathan (kTn) may obstruct the singing and is contrary to the spoken language in Punjab even today, though the grammatically correct Sanskrit / Hindi word’s spelling would indeed be Kathin (kiTn).
c) The omission of reference to details of Raags and Raaginis and measures of music on the top of the shabads (as adopted in this book) would deprive Raagis from valuable guidance on the subject.
d) The substitution of the word Hai (j?) for the original word Re (o/) in the shabad on page 130 and the word sum (;w) for Sabh (;G) on page 26 appears to be inconsistent with the entire tenor of each of the other verses in the shabad — and even changes the meaning to some extent.
e) The reason for omitting Rahao (ojkT) in line 3 of the shabad at page 32 is not understood.

(These submissions are not exhaustive, but illustrative).

5. The Panth should expect appropriate action at your end in this respect to avoid different authors (each of whom need not be as honest and well meaning as Bhai Joginder Singh ji) embarking on twisting Gurbani. I also feel, capable persons like Talwara ji, should devote their valuable time and utilise their knowledge of Gurbani in making Sikhs real Gursikhs by preaching the contents and the universal message of Gurbani rather than indulge in mere academic intellectual exercises which may not by themselves be relevant to the essence of Gurbani and serve no useful practical purpose. Faith starts where intellect (chatrai) ends. The object of making the best and prescribed use of the God-given opportunity of form of human life is “only to sing His praises in the company of holy ones.” (Bhai Praapat Manukh Dehuria, Gobind Milan ki eh teri baria — Awar kaaj tere kite na kaam — Mil sadsangati bhaj kewal Naam.) “Learning and intellectual feats are discountenanced repeatedly in Gurbani since they are only sources of disputation.”
6. I am releasing a copy of this Open Letter to the religious Sikh Press to evince public opinion to help you in arriving at an appropriate decision on all aspects of the matter.

With profoundest regards and utmost respect,

Windhoek, Namibia Yours devotedly,
June 10, 1998 R.S. Narula


2 thoughts on “Open letter from Justice Narula to Jathedar Akal Takhat, 1998

  1. My apologies for the “gibberish” in the text. My html coding skills are limited. I have no idea how to embed the missing font. If someone can help in this I’ll be grateful.

  2. Gosh..what an erudite document..befitting a Justice of India..may all Sikhs learn from the grasp and authority of subject, and penmanship..sadly we are caught up in ignorance and slavery to material success

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