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Sri Guru Nanak Parkash (VOl 1 & 2)
by Kavi Bhai Santokh Singh

A Review by Dr Gurbakhsh Singh*

Edited by Dr Kirpal Singh
Published by Dharam Parchar Committee, SGPC, Amritsar
Section I, Vol 1 – Price : Rs 165/- Pages : 880; Vol 2 – Price 165/- Pages 891
Section 2, Vol 1 – Price : Rs 150/- Pages : 673; Vol 2 – Price 150/- Pages 719

A very common comment often made about the Sikh history is, and it is correct, that Sikhs made history but they did not write it. Some Sikh scholars did write the biography of the Gurus but it is in verse. So their stance was emotional while narrating the teachings of the Gurus and the episodes of their lives rather than recording the chronological incidents of their history meticulously.

Bhai Santokh Singh has been given the highest position among these Sikh poets for writing a great epic Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, the first and the last of its kind. After completing it, he presented it to the Khalsa Panth at the Akal Takht in 1843-44, as a humble Sikh. He died soon after, making the Sikhs believe that the mission of his life was only to perform this great task for the nation. The first part of the granth is related to the life of Guru Nanak Dev and it is called Sri Guru Nanak Parkash.

This granth is recited episode by episode regularly in the evening congregations in many gurdwaras. Listening to the poetic recitation and its explanation (katha) in Punjabi is not only informative but also very inspiring, soothing and peace-giving to the mind. No doubt the epic has become the most popular epic among the community.

Bhai Santokh Singh was a famous scholar of the Nirmala order and a great poet. He had studied the Hindu literature, and was a great scholar of Puranas and Shastras. His mind was, therefore, greatly influenced by the old Hindu beliefs and myths. This is the reason that the Puranic myths have been narrated as if these were related to Guru Nanak historically. But he has given a gurmat colouring to the non-Sikh and anti-Sikh beliefs and rituals.

Many Sikh scholars have pointed out such shortcomings in his granth. They are concerned with editing it so as to insulate the minds of the listeners from its katha, and its readers from the mythological overtones emerging from his narration of the life and teachings of Guru Nanak.

Bhai Vir Singh of Khalsa Dewan Society, Amritsar, was the pioneer in editing this work. He edited the granth with meanings of difficult words so that a reader could understand it easily. He has also added some critical comments regarding the faith and devotion (sharda) of the author/poet in the Sikh Gurus. The granth is a very important source for knowing the history of the Sikh Gurus for the devout Sikhs of the Gurus. However, this edition does not fulfil all the requirements of the readers who are interested in chronological facts of the life history of Guru Nanak Dev. They have to do lot of labour themselves to ascertain the historical facts mentioned in this voluminous epic.

Many other earlier Sikh writings also suffer from these kind of shortcomings, pertaining to anti-Sikh beliefs and rituals and incorrect dates of Sikh historical records. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has been receiving repeated complaints from readers all over the globe about the anti-Sikh information being spread through these popular books. Therefore, on the advice of the Sikh scholars and historians, the Dharam Parchar Committee of SGPC thought it prudent to launch the ‘Sikh Srot Ithasik Granth Sampadna Project’. Under this project, a fresh editing of the Old Sikh literature is to be done to present the correct version of the history of the Gurus and the Khalsa Panth. Dr Kirpal Singh, a prominent historian, was chosen to undertake this important task to elucidate the contents of this work in modern Punjabi and point out the various anti-Sikh statements in it.

Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth has been chosen first of all because of its popularity and serious disinformation contained in this epic. The first four volumes of the this edited version are related to the life of Guru Nanak Dev. The study of these volumes convinces the reader that the purpose of getting the granth edited has been fully served. The editor has investigated facts about the life history of the Guru. Not only has he studied all the old Janam Sakhis for recording the most reliable facts about Guru Nanak (Janamsakhi Prampra) but also had gone to Sri Lanka and other places connected with Guru’s udasis (journeys). He also searched the local literature and learnt firsthand about the oral traditions about the visit of the Guru to different places.

Reading the Punjabi version along with the original Brij Bhasha on the left page of the book, helps the reader to understand the real feelings and devotion of the author. It also reveals the author’s scholarship for imaginative dialogue and other descriptions so that the reader himself starts feeling similar emotions while reading and listening to the narration of various episodes.

The significance of this edition has also been enhanced by the relevant notes, commentary and academic discussion of the issues emerging from the text. The editor has chosen more than 40 issues for his analysis based on other Sikh writings and the teachings of Gurbani.

After studying the analysis of this work by the present editor, the mind of reader responds, “Great! the editor has done full justice by editing this epic.” The quotations, references and his interpretation all strive to take the reader nearest to the truth.

The issues he has discussed inter alia are: parkash of the Guru, his coming out of the Bein after three days, miracles associated with his life, his visit to Sri Lanka and dialogue with the Siddhas, his visit to Baghdad, Mecca, his hymns under the name of Nanak included in the granth but not included in Guru Granth Sahib, etc., and the various mythological anecdotes attached to Guru’s life in the epic.

These issues could be analysed only by a practising Sikh fully aware of gurbani teachings, who is a scholar and a historian as well. The editor’s elaborate elucidation reveals that such an analytical discussion could be presented only by an editor who is fully qualified for this job.

A reviewer is awed by the huge amount of labour that has gone into preparing the four volumes of this edited biography running into more than 3000 pages. However, the reader finds full justification for this large size of edited biography because so many issues involved have been analysed to sift the historical facts from mere assumptions or hearsay. Already there is a large body of authors/editors with different approaches and their different biases which had to be studied for the logical analysis of the issues. It surely was not an easy task which has been accomplished so well by the editor.

The main object of the project is to analyse the important old Sikh literature, a great heritage of the Panth. It aims to scrutinize the whole material in the light of the teachings of gurbani, and point out the non-Sikh, anti-gurmat statements in this work of literature, and interpret it in an easily readable and intelligible Punjabi. This objective has been fully met by the editor. He deserves the thanks of the readers for providing them the material they had been waiting for a long time.

Summary given at the end of each chapter facilitates the reader to know the chronogical order of the events mentioned in detail in each chapter. Difficult words or those words which are merely suggestive have been explained well. This is quite helpful for understanding the original text.

Some words or statements, which needed some detailed description of their background for knowing the full concept of the issues/events have been given in the endnotes for thorough understanding of the text.

The book should be made available for study to the modern Sikh youth. All the katha watchaks (who explain the granth to the sangat in the gurdwaras) must go through it, and tell the sangat about the correct history and also discuss Sikh philosophy for the benefit of listeners. This will go a long way to educate the sangat regarding the greatness of the Gurus and their lives.

A common problem when editing such manuscripts is that when these epics are copied and recopied, some changes in the text do creep in. Here, too, we find the original Brij Bhasha text having such ‘mistakes’ regarding the use of adhik (for double sound) and foot dots. Their use in the volumes is quite common while the Brij Bhasha language does not have any of these two symbols. Such changes do creep in when Punjabi writers copy a Brij Bhasha manuscript. On the whole, Dr Kirpal Singh's commentary is lucid, informative and explanatory which addresses the major concerns of the Sikh scholars and devout and descerning Sikh readers, who feel uncomfortable with the somewhat excessive mythological baggage in all the these ancient texts.


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