Dasam Granth — A Historical Perspective
by Late Principal Harbhajan Singh
[Reproduced from Abstracts of Sikh Studies, Jan-Mar 1999]
It is admitted by all historians that in the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh, there existed no such manuscript, now known as Dasam Granth. However, there is a mention of a granth named Vidya Sagar, which is supposed to have been a compilation of some writings of the Guru and the poets at his court. This granth is said to have been lost at the battle of Anandpur Sahib in the year 1704 CE. Therefore, to understand the issue of the Dasam Granth, one has to fall back on the writings of the Guru’s near contemporaries and above all, on the irrefutable criterion of the ideology of Guru Granth Sahib. It is an established fact that Guru Gobind Singh, at the time of his demise, bestowed guruship on Adi Granth Sahib. What is even more significant is that the Guru neither prepared any granth of his own, equivalent in holy status to Adi Granth, nor thought it fit to include any composition of his own in the same.
How the Title Changed
The granth was given different names at different times in the following order :
a) Bachittar Natak
b) Daswen Patshah ka Granth
c) Dasam Granth
d) Sri Dasam Granth
e) Sri Dasam Granth Sahib
f) Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib
These names are very misleading, and the pity is that these have not been given by any responsible and representative body, society, or the Panth as a whole, but just by individuals, small organizations or publishers. According to Dr Rattan Singh Jaggi, “There is no unanimity among the historians regarding the date of compilation of this granth, but according to Sikh tradition the decision to compile it in one volume was made conditional on the success of the mission of Bhai Sukha Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh. Later, it is said Baba Deep Singh and Bhai Sukha Singh of Patna prepared their own Birs (volumes) by adding more material to it. Uptil then, the granth was named as Bachittar Natak, which later came to be named as the granth of the Tenth Guru.”
As Bachittar Natak
Bachittar or Vachittar Natak, according to Mahan Kosh of Bhai Kahan Singh, denotes one of the following :
a) Wonderful or strange drama;
b) That part of Dasam Granth which pertains to the stories of Avtars (incarnations) and other historical narratives, written in dramatic style;
c) Part of the granth comprising fourteen chapters, wherein some happenings of the life of Guru Gobind Singh have been incorporated.
A careful analysis of the inner evidence of the granth helps us to find out which meaning of Bachittar Natak, given in Mahan Kosh, is appropriate or inappropriate for different parts of the granth. In the first place, those portions of the granth about the authorship of which there are no two opinions among Sikh scholars, do not have any internal indication anywhere, showing them as Bachittar Natak.
Secondly, fourteen chapters, wherein some happenings of the life of Guru Gobind Singh have been incorporated, are clearly marked as Bachittar Natak, both as a sub-heading and at the end of each chapter.
Thirdly, Charitro Pakhyan and Hakayats (stories in Persian) are so obscene that they are not worthy of even being spoken of as Bachittar Natak, which has not been done in the granth either.
Fourthly, the rest of the writings can be called Bachittar Natak, and they have been so indicated at the end of most of the writings in the sense that these are mythical and dramatic narratives.
As Dasam Granth
The contents of the so-called Dasam Granth may be divided broadly into the following categories for the purpose of our study :
i) Hymns, considered by all to be compositions of Guru Gobind Singh — 50 pages
ii) Bachittar Natak (14 Chapters) — 36 pages
iii) Both of the Chandi Charittras and Chandi Di Var — 53 pages
iv) Chaubis Avtars, etc. — 674 pages
v) Charittro Pakhyan and Hakayats in Persian — 615
[Note : The total number of pages indicated in this article are taken from the published volume of Dasam Granth as available in 1428 pages.]
Out of 1428 pages, the Guru’s hymns occupy only 50 pages and Charittro Pakhyan and Hakayats (which neither claim to be Bachittar Natak, nor can their contents entitle them to be so), cover 615 pages. The composition that has been given the heading of Bachittar Natak comprises only 14 chapters and each chapter ends with the remark, “Iti Bachittar Natak Granthe ….” (lit. “Here ends the Bachittar Natak Granth”). In the rest of the writings, Bachittar Natak is not given as a heading of any composition, but “Iti Bachittar Natak Granth…” occurs at the end of most of the chapters related to Avtar stories.
The picture that emerges clearly is that, whereas Bachittar Natak Granth is referred to many times within the so-called Dasam Granth, there is not a single instance where Dasam Granth, as such, is mentioned within its text. It is an established part of Sikh tradition that the different portions of this granth lay scattered at different places, and were collected together to form one volume some decades after the demise of the Tenth Master and consequent to the success of the mission of Bhai Sukha Singh and Bhai Mehtab Singh. It did not end here. To the first collection were added, later on, more writings, and it is these collections which came to be named first as Bachittar Natak then as Daswen Patshah ka Granth still later as Dasam Granth, and recently by some publisher as Sri Dasam Guru Granth Sahib.
Decision for Compilation
What is an even more significant part of the established Sikh tradition is that when the decision to compile the different pothis or writings for the first time into one volume was made, there was a serious debate at Damdama (Bathinda), as to whether the different parts of this granth merited at all to be joined together in a single volume. The overwhelming opinion in this debate even at that time was not in favour of compiling the different pothis or writings in a single volume; only the minority opinion favoured different pothis to be compiled toghether. Hence, there is not even a prima facie case for assuming this granth to be an integrated, single, one-piece work, much less that it be regarded as the composition of a single author. A summary reference to the analysis of the contents of the granth by Dr Jaggi confirms this conclusion.
Here it is relevant to state that Dr Ashta has attributed the collection of the granth to Bhai Mani Singh. This he bases primarily on a letter purported to have been written by Bhai Sahib to Mata Sundri. Dr Jaggi, whose thesis Dasam Granth ka Kartritva, which has been commended by Dr H.P. Dwivedi, has examined this issue in detail and comes to the conclusion that the letter is fake.
a) There are only four extant manuscripts of the granth which are recognized by scholars. All these differ materially even as regards the subject matter, number of pages, the headings of the chapters, the number of verses in them, and their sequences and arrangements, etc. There are too many variations to be recounted here. 
b) Pen-names of Ram, Sham, Kali and Gobind are found in different compositions indicating them to be the poet-authors of these.
a) Within the granth:- There are glaring contradictions within the text itself on ideological issues which are fundamental to Sikhism. For example, Sikhism stands for unalloyed monotheism:
“O man, worship none but God, not a thing made by Him.
Know that He Who was in the beginning,
Unborn, Invincible, and Indestructible is God.
What if Vishnu, coming into this world killed some of the demons,
And exercising great deceit induced every one to call him God.
Hear, O fool !
How can he who was drowned in the ocean of the world save thee?”
“One Shiv was born, one died, and one was born again;
There have also been many incarnations of Ram Chander and Krishan.
How many Brahmas and Vishnus there have been !
How many Veds and Puranas !
How many collections of Simritis there have been and passed away!…”
“Some fasten an idol firmly to their breasts;
Some say that Shiv is God; …
Some say that Ram is God; some say Krishan;
Some in their hearts accept the incarnations as God;
But I have forgotten all vain religions and know in my heart
That the Creator is the only God.”
As against this clear-cut ideology of Guru Gobind Singh himself, 455 pages have been devoted in the granth to idolise Chaubis Avtaars and 99 pages to idolise the Avtaars of Brahma, Rudra, and other.
One item that requires particular notice relates to the worship of gods and goddesses, particularly that of Durga, Bhawani, Kali, Shiva, Sitla, etc., which are all supposed to be the incarnation of Parbati Devi, or Shiva, meaning the spouse of Shivji and not Shivji himself.
What has been said about the condemnation of the Avtaars of Vishnu and the Devi, applies equally to the mythical incarnation of other gods and goddesses. In addition, we have the hymn clearly condemning the worship of Devi by name, “Boundless is His Form, and boundless His Voice; in the shelter of His Feet dwelleth Bhavani.”
b) With the hymns of Guru Granth Sahib:-
i) Whereas in Guru Granth Sahib the invocation is invariably to God alone, here the invocations are to Bhagauti, Durga, etc.
ii) By far the strongest objection for not considering this granth to be a unified work, is ideological. For the largest portion of it cuts across the fundamentals of the Sikh ideology, as enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib. The Gurus are categorical on this point.
“May that mouth burn, which says that God incarnates.”
“O Brother, fools worship gods and goddesses. They know not that these mythical deities can give them nothing. To beg anything from them is just like putting stone idols in water, where they only sink. How can they enable anyone else to swim across the water ?”
Bhagat Namdev in Guru Granth Sahib also says, “They who worship Bhairav, shall become sprites; they who worship Sitla, ride donkeys and scatter dust. For myself I take the name of One God.”
Except for 50 pages, the granth contradicts the ideology of Guru Granth Sahib. As 674 pages are devoted to extolling Avtaars, etc. and 53 pages praise Chandi and Durga (Chandi Chritras and Var Durga ki). While 615 pages relate to the utterly obscene Charittro Pakhyan.
The conclusive evidence is that whereas the 50 pages in every way synchronise with the bani of Guru Granth Sahib, the main body of the granth relating to Devis and Avtaars and Charittro Pakhyan are evidently in contradiction to that ideology. Hence, when the acid test is applied, except the 50 pages of the bani, the writings in the granth are difficult to accept as creations of the Tenth Master.
First, this is a granth which never existed as such in the time of the Tenth Master, nor is there any verifiable injunction by the Master in this regard. Second, it was decades after the demise of Guru Gobind Singh that it was joined together in one volume, just because of a chance development. Third, the very naming of the granth has been varying, and the first name, Bachittar Natak, supported by internal evidence, hardly suggests that the granth has a religious import. These names have been changed from time to time.
Fourth, the different parts of it, especially the 50 pages and the bulk of the granth relating to Avtaars, Devis and the Charittro Pakhyan are entirely contradictory in content. In fact, about the Charittro Pakhyan, the S.G.P.C. has conveyed that it is not the writing of Guru Gobind Singh, but is a reproduction of some mythical stories. According to known tradition, even originally the majority opinion was against the different pothis being compiled into one volume. Hence, it passes one’s comprehension how this granth can logically be regarded as a single piece of work or the composition of a single author, much less of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib.
It is obvious that the material of the granth needs to be sifted in order to separate the grain from the chaff, and the only criterion for that is the bani of Guru Granth Sahib. But this sifting should not be left to the judgement of an individual or an organisation, howsoever respected and highly placed it may be. It is a matter of vital importance, and a decision on it should be the responsibility of the Panth.
Notes & References
1. Wahi (Record) of Narbudh Bhatt; Koer Singh, Gurbilas Patshahi Das (1745 CE), Chapter 21; Kesar Singh Chhiber, Bansawlinama, (1769 CE), Chapter 10; Sarup Das Bhalla, Mehma Parkash (1776 CE), p. 459
2. Dr Rattan Singh Jaggi in his scholarly thesis Dasam Granth ka Kartritva, (i.e., Authorship of Dasam Granth) has conclusively shown that Guru Gobind Singh did not give an equal status to his own writings with that of the Adi Granth. He described his composition as a play.
3. Rattan Singh Jaggi: Dasam Granth ka Kartritva, p. 13
4. Jap, Akal Ustat (minus 20 stanzas from 211 to 230 in the praise of Devi Durga); Swayyas; Shabads, and Zaffarnama.
5. Bhai Kahn Singh: Mahan Kosh, p. 616
6. Dr Rattan Singh Jaggi: op. cit., p. 13
7. Bhai Kahn Singh: op. cit., p. 616
9. Dr Rattan Singh Jaggi: op. cit., Chapter 4 and Appendix, Pp.100-101
10. Ibid., Pp. 49-66
11. Macauliffe, M.A.: The Sikh Religion, Vol. V., Shabad Hazare Pp.325-326.
12. Ibid., Akal Ustat, p. 272
13. Ibid., Swayyas, Pp. 318
14. Ibid., Akal Ustat, p. 262
15. Guru Granth Sahib, p. 1136
16. Ibid., p. 637
17. Ibid., p. 874; Macauliffe, Vol. VI., p. 57
18. Letter No. 36672, dated 3.8.1973, from the Dharam Parchar Committee of the S.G.P.C., Amritsar.