The Japji is a profound religious text which Sikhs recite at the start of day. It is the opening text of the Guru
Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of the Sikhs. ‘Jap’ means meditation, and this is what this text is meant for.
Written in simple English, this book is not a mere translation. O.P. Ghai’s spiritual leaning has resulted in a book
which helps readers appreciate the beauty of the original.
O.P. Ghai (1919-1992) was known for his communication skills. A publisher by profession and believer by faith
in the fundamental unity underlying the great religions of the world, he sought religious co-existence through the
written and the spoken world by editing a treatise, Unity in Diversity, which became a widely translated book in
India and abroad.
A graduate of Punjab University, Lahore, who started his career as a schoolteacher, he founded University
Publishers, Sterling Publishers and the Institute of Book Publishing and rose to become a member of the
Executive Committee of the International Publishers Association, a rare honour.
The Japji is a profound liturgical text which the Sikhs of all denominations recite in the pre-dawn ambrosial
hours. It is the opening text of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy Sikh scripture. Jap means meditation. This is
what this text is meant for. Thoughtful repetition of it over a length of time would so metamorphose the
practitioner’s mind that it opens out in receptivity to the Supreme Reality.
This exalted text delves into cosmogony, defines the sustenance of the world through moral forces, unfolds the
great Laws relating to cosmic evolution as well as devolution, describes the path of spiritual ascent and
introduces the practitioner to the various well defined stages of this ascent culminating in realisation of the
The unique and distinctive Sikh monotheism has been expounded in it, not in the manner of a philosophic
treatise, but in the form of highly inspired poetry characterised both by lyrical charm and by aphoristic quality. It
is an exquisite piece of literature with intimate experiential texture and subtle linguistic finesse, that make it a
complex religious text which has posed a great challenge to anyone attempting to translate it into any
Scores of English translations of the Japji already exist. The names of such outstanding translators as M.A.
Macauliffe, Ernest Trumpp, Puran Singh, Teja Singh, G.S. Talib, Surinderjit Singh, Vinoba Bhave, T.L. Waswani,
Sharad Chander Verma and Swami Rama straightaway come to one’s mind. Yet, newer and newer translations
tend to appear every now and then. Every new translation signifies the relative dissatisfaction of the discerning
reader with the translations in existence until then. But every new translation seems to have met with a similar
destiny. The reason is not far to seek.
First of all, some translators have attempted to preserve the recitational quality of the Japji even in the
translation. Quite often, that is at the expense of loyalty to its literal meaning. Others have attempted
preservation of its thematic nuances, but overlooked its aphoristic character. Still others have made efforts to
simplify its complexity but in the process sacrificed its lyrical and experiential quality. It may be said with
confidence that of all the profound scriptural texts among the religions of the world, the Japji seems to have
posed the greatest challenge to the translators.
Shri. O.P. Ghai, in the translation that he has put into our hands, has set himself a rather modest objective. He
just wished to render this text into simple English.
In this he seems to have amply succeeded. Although the product has turned out to be a mixture of translation and
exposition, rather than a straightforward translation, it has in so doing acquired a distinctive charm of its own.
The translator seems personally to be standing between the text and the readers, stressing now this, and now
another, particular point. Comments of this nature are intended to clarify some complex expressions to clarify
some complex expressions or dilate on certain others to make them more intelligible.
Shri. O.P. Ghai is an author of experience. His quest sextets-Quest for Excellence, Quest for Inspiration, Quest
for Development, Quest for Achievement, Quest for Perfection and Quest for Enlightenment-as also his mush
translated book, Unity in Diversity, testify to not only his linguistic ability, but also his spiritual leanings, both of
which are so essential for a translation of this text.
It is hoped that this translation will make a useful addition to the array of leading existing translations of the
In 1930, sixty years ago, I was a student of the 7th class in Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa High School, Baba
Bakala, Amritsar. I studied there for four years, passing the Matriculation Examination in 1934.
The morning assembly used to start with the recitation of a Shabad, which was followed by an explanation of it
in terms of the ethical and moral principles of Sikhism.
Every day there was a period devoted to religious instruction when Gianiji would tell us stories from Sikh
scriptures and history. The stories were most inspiring and easy to understand.
The school had students of all religious faiths: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. We were Sikhs and
Christians. We were required to learn the Japji by heart and then recite it before the whole class. So I spent a lot
of time memorizing the Japji without, of course, understanding its meaning. For a number of years after leaving
school I could recite the Japji in full. By and by, I forgot most of it, though I still remember several of its
passages, especially the Invocation-the Mul Mantra with which the Japji opens, and is the quintessence of Guru
Nanak’s thought and philosophy. The whole of the Japji is an elaboration of the Invocation.
The Sikh scripture, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, begins with the Japji, the rest of it being an exposition of its
religious and philosophic thought. About a year ago when I completed the Bhagavad Gita, which has just been
published, I made up my mind to also render the Japji into English on the same lines as the Gita. It is intended to
be the simplest summarised version of Japji till date.
When in 1946 after resigning from my job as a teacher, I started a publishing house, University Publishers, in
Lahore, University Publishers, in Lahore. It so happened that Sardar Jiwan Singh, Proprietor of Lahore Book
Shop, which was also situated on Nisbet Road, presented me with a copy of the Japji, translated into English by
Prof Puran Singh. I still have that copy and have read it a number of times. It has an excellent foreword by Prof
Gurmukh Nihal Singh. I have also read over a dozen other English translations of the book by eminent Indian and
The Japji, a poem of 38 stanzas, was originally written in Punjabi-a language used for the first time by Sri Guru
Nanak as a vehicle of expression of philosophic and religious thought. It is believed that he wrote it sometime
towards the close of his life. The Japji, rightly regarded as the most beautiful poem in Punjabi, is comparable in
the profundity of its thought with the Bhagavad Gita.
Every Sikh is expected to learn the Japji by heart and recite it every day early in the morning.
The Japji discusses the problems of human existence and offers solutions. It describes the sikh way or reaching
God. I have kept up my interest in Sikhism, which is evident from the fact that my company, Sterling Publishers,
has published a number of books by eminent Sikh scholars, including Dr Sher Singh, Prof Harbans Singh, Prof
Gurbachan Singh Talib, Sardar Sardar Daljit Singh, Shri S.S. Johar and many others. We brought out many books
during the celebrations of the centenaries of Guru Nanak, Guru Amar Das and Guru Gobind Singhji.
My knowledge of the Punabi language, my deep and abiding interest in Sikhism and my reverence for the Gurus
have been helpful in the rendering of the Japji into English.
I am fully conscious that my translation of the Japji cannot convey the beauty and force of the original, because I
am neither a scholar nor a philosopher.
If I have made any mistakes in interpreting the teaching of the Japji I beg forgiveness, first of all, from Guru
Nanak and then from all followers of the Sikh faith which, above all, teaches tolerance.
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