The Japji, composed by Guru Nanak , the founder of the Sikh faith, is the most important prayer of the Sikhs, and one of the most sublime and majestic examples of sacred poetry in any language. Comprising a series of hymns in praise of the one God who is Truth, it opens the sacred book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, and is recited every morning by all practicing Sikhs.
The Rehras is a prayer of thanksgiving, recited at the end of the day in gratitude and also for inspiration. It comprises hymns by fiver of the ten Sikh Gurus: Guru Nanak, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun and Guru Gobind Singh.
This volume brings together Khushwant Singh's classic English translations of the two best known and , in many ways, defining sacred compositions of the Sikhs. Beautifully illustrated, this is a collector' edition for anyone interested not only in the Sikh faith but also in great sacred literature.
Born in Punjab's Hadali village (now in Pakistan) in 1915, Khushwant Singh is one of India's best known and most widely, read authors and columnists. He was founder-editor of Yojna, and editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India and the Hindustan Times. His several acclaimed and bestselling books include the novels Train to Pakistan, I shall Not Hear the Nightingale and Delhi; his autobiography, Truth, love and a Little Malice; and the two-volume A History of the Sikhs. He has also translated the work of major Punjabi and urdu poets, novelists and short-story writers.
Khushwant Singh was member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974, which he returned in 1984 to protest the siege of the Golden Temple by the Indian Army. In 2007 he was awarded India's second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhusan. He was also honoured with the Punjab Rattan Awarded by the government of Punjab in 2006.
I am not a religious man, but I call myself a Sikh and am proud to be one. As with every religion, Sikhism has been misinterpreted by bigoted and cynical people, but that is a failure of men, not of the faith. In its essence, Sikhism remains a great religion that teaches all that I value: tolerance, simplicity, equality, service to the community and to all humanity.
Sikhism was born of and influenced by the two dominant faiths of Punjab, Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak (I469-I539)-the founder of the Sikh religion-drew upon Hindu Bhakta and Islamic Sufi philosophy to spread a message of love and universal brotherhood, and of simple worship beyond dogma and empty ritual. His teachings fired the imagination of the peasants of Punjab, and he became the beloved saint of both Hindus and Muslims. Even today, he is remembered as the king of holy men:
Sikhism preaches belief in the unity of God (Ek Omkar: God is One) and equates God with truth (Sat Naam: His Name is Truth). Sikhs do not believe in sacred rivers or mountains, nor do they worship idols: 'To be saved, worship only the Truth,' said Nanak. The Sikhs do not have priests. There are, now, professional scripture readers (granthis) and musicians (ragis), but in fact, irrespective of status, all Sikhs are competent to perform religious ceremonies.
The Sikh religion does not recognize the caste system. Nanak's teachings and verses abound with passages that describe as ungodly the conduct of those who treat anyone as untouchable. Among the first five Sikhs to be chosen as the Khalsa (the Pure) by the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, was a Dalit, Bhai Dharam Singh. (Unfortunately, many Sikhs still discriminate against the lower castes, and fail their faith and their Gurus.)
A feature of the Sikh religion which is particularly striking is its emphasis on prayer. The form of prayer is usually the repetition of the name of God and chanting hymns of praise. Sacred hymns composed by the first five Gurus and the ninth Guru, and by Bhakti and Sufi saints like Kabir, Baba Farid and Mira Bai, were compiled and collected in the Adi Granth, or Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, by Arjun Dev (the fifth Guru) and Gobind Singh (the tenth and last Guru)' The hymns of the Adi Granth are divided into thirty-one ragas, in which they are meant to be sung. The Gurus believed
that repeating the name of God and divine worship through music were the best means of attaining the state of bliss-vismad-that resulted in communion with the Almighty.
When Gobind Singh declared that with him the line of succession of the Sikh Gurus had ended, he asked his followers to look upon the Adi Granth as the symbolic representation of all the ten Gurus. Since then, it has been the central object of Sikh worship and ritual.
The Japji-the morning prayer-was composed by the first Guru, Nanak, himself, and appears at the very beginning of the Adi Granth. It consists of the mool mantra-the root or primal mantra-that is the basis of Sikh theology, followed by thirty-eight pauris, or hymns, and a final shloka. All of it does not seem to have been written at one time and the length of its verses, their metre and thought content varies. The verses are in the nature of meditations, dealing with the fundamentals of the Sikh faith. In these verses, Nanak mentions four successive steps towards salvation: dharam khand, gyan khand,
karam khand and sach khand, corresponding to discipline, knowledge, action, and ending with the blissful merger with God. These steps follow very closely the four stages of the spiritual progress of the Sufis.
Unlike the rest of the Granth Sahib, the Japji was not set to music and is never sung. The language of the Japji is the Punjabi of the fifteenth century and is extremely difficult to translate. My translation is largely based on the commentaries of the famous Punjabi
poet and scholar Bhai Vir Singh.
The Rehras is the evening prayer, recited around sunset. It comprises verses by five
Gurus-Nanak, Amar Das, Ram Das, Arjun Dev and Gobind Singh. The origin of
the word 'rehras' is disputed by scholars and theologians. The most widely accepted
interpretation is that it stands for 'humble invocation'.
The Rehras as a prayer is not mentioned as such in the Adi Granth, and it has been
used only once as a word, Har kirat hamri Rehras (That I sing God's praises is my humble
invocation')-in the main body of the prayer. But there is reason to believe that the
Rehras, in some form or the other, has been recited at close of day since the time of Guru
Nanak. Bhai Gurdas, who was a near contemporary of Guru Nanak and lived up to the
time of Guru Arjun, records:
The Rehras does indeed begin with Guru Nanak's 'Sodar'-the doorway to God's
mansion. This is repeated from the Japji, but with a change in tone and a few of the words changed -mainly because the Japji is in the nature of an instruction from God, while the Rehras is the devotee's hymn of gratitude to God. Compositions of other gurus were added to the original Sodar in later years. The quatrains of Gobind Singh were the last to be incorporated.
The content of the Rehras can be divided into three broad strands-the quest, the striving and the culmination. This last is expressed in a verse by the third Guru, Amar Das:
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