Approaches to the Exegesis of Sri
Guru Granth Sahib

Hardev Singh Virk
Professor Emeritus, Eternal
University, Baru Sahib,...
The Nature of Religious
Experience
• According to Gurnek Singh2: “The religion is based on
the experience of the metaphysi...
Metaphysical versus Phenomenal
• Man’s mental encounter with his surroundings
result in expression of his feelings.
• Man ...
Importance of Exegesis
• Exegesis or interpretation or exposition is of great
eminence, for it unfolds the hidden, i.e. es...
Exegesis of SGGS
• The exegesis of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is of great
import for the philosophical, theological and
sociolo...
Exegesis as a tool to decode Message
• The scriptural message shall help to decrease the
sufferings of man and will lead m...
Origin of Exegesis in Sikh Tradition
• The first effort to interpret the Gurbani was
made by Bhai Gurdas.
• The practice o...
Approaches to Sikh Exegesis
• During the eighteenth - nineteenth century, the
task of interpreting and preaching the Holy ...
Historical Origin of Tikas
• The first Udasi exegete of this period was
Anandghana, who completed his tika of Japu
in 1795...
Nirmala School of Exegetes
• Nirmala scholars generally echoed the Udasi trend of
interpreting Sikh scriptural texts in th...
Western Scholars of Sikh lore
• Gurnek covered all works of Western Scholars
starting from Colonel A.L.H. Polier right up ...
Macauliffe’s Interpretation
• “Macauliffe observed many moral and political merits
in the Sikh religion. It does not allow...
A Critique of Sikh Exegesis
• Dr Taran Singh has given different modes of SGGS
interpretation in his book.5
• The tikas at...
Schools of Sikh Exegetes
• Joginder Singh mentioned five major Schools of
Sikh exegesis7 : School of Meharban; School of
U...
Paradox of Scientific Exegesis
• Science and Mysticism are two different modes of
experiencing the Reality. While science ...
Science & Sikh Religion
• Professor Puran Singh lamented that the Guru’s
message has been misinterpreted: “It is to be reg...
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Approaches to the exegesis of sri guru granth

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Scripture of Sikh religion " Guru Granth Sahib" has been interpreted since its compilation in 1604 AD. The Presentation discusses various approaches to its exegesis.

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Approaches to the exegesis of sri guru granth

  1. 1. Approaches to the Exegesis of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Hardev Singh Virk Professor Emeritus, Eternal University, Baru Sahib, HP
  2. 2. The Nature of Religious Experience • According to Gurnek Singh2: “The religion is based on the experience of the metaphysical reality, i.e. God or Numinous. This experience is the result of the direct encounter or the communication with Reality. As a consequence, it comes down to us through nonrational media, i.e. the intuition which is beyond intellectual understanding and comprehension. So being the product of direct vision of the ultimate Reality, i.e. God, it is intellectually both intelligible and unapproachable because the language through which the Bani or revelation is coming down to humanity is most of the time symbolic, metaphorical and allegorical”. 2.(www.internationalsikhconference.org)
  3. 3. Metaphysical versus Phenomenal • Man’s mental encounter with his surroundings result in expression of his feelings. • Man deals with this phenomenal existence and that is why the expression of man is easily comprehensible in common language. • The category which is non-mundane, which is non-rational, i.e. divine or intuitional is beyond proper intellectual comprehension.
  4. 4. Importance of Exegesis • Exegesis or interpretation or exposition is of great eminence, for it unfolds the hidden, i.e. esoteric meanings or message of scripture. Otherwise the scriptural message would be beyond the comprehension of layman as well as scholar. So to impart the message to the people in general, and the scholars in particular, the endeavours have been made to decode both literal as well as esoteric message enshrined in the scripture to the people at large.
  5. 5. Exegesis of SGGS • The exegesis of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is of great import for the philosophical, theological and sociological comprehension of its message. Its implications and concepts shall certainly lead man to imply the Sikh thought on mundane level consequently building and establishing the better world where in peace, happiness and prosperity shall reign supreme and in this way in the words of Bhagat Ravidas, the Halemi Raj shall be established, wherein peace shall prevail and trials and tribulations shall cease to be operative.
  6. 6. Exegesis as a tool to decode Message • The scriptural message shall help to decrease the sufferings of man and will lead man to establish a beautiful world worth living. The better social order shall come into existence which shall provide the chance to men to live peacefully and happily. • Exegesis has been used as a tool to decode the message of the scripture. It has been used in various religious traditions, such as Tafsir in Islamic tradition, Exegesis in Christianity and Tika or Pramarth in Sikh Tradition has been employed for this purpose.
  7. 7. Origin of Exegesis in Sikh Tradition • The first effort to interpret the Gurbani was made by Bhai Gurdas. • The practice of exposition of Gurbani was started during the Guru period. • SGGS was interpreted to Sikh Sangat at Damdama Sahib by Tenth Master himself. • Thus the historical roots of Sikh exegesis are traced back to Damdama Sahib and the origin of Damdami Taksal in Sikh tradition.
  8. 8. Approaches to Sikh Exegesis • During the eighteenth - nineteenth century, the task of interpreting and preaching the Holy Guru Granth Sahib primarily rested with the Udasi and Nirmala teachers. • This continued during the time when Sikhs had established authority in the Punjab. • All instruction was carried out orally. The only writings of this period were the Rahitnamas which were, strictly speaking, rules of conduct rather than works of exegesis.
  9. 9. Historical Origin of Tikas • The first Udasi exegete of this period was Anandghana, who completed his tika of Japu in 1795, followed by exegeses of several other banis. His interpretations are saturated with Upanisadic lore and are densely Vedantic rather than Sikh, and are apparently a conscious reincubation of Hindu ideology in Sikh thinking.
  10. 10. Nirmala School of Exegetes • Nirmala scholars generally echoed the Udasi trend of interpreting Sikh scriptural texts in the inflated style prescribed by Hindu commentators on Upanisadic and Vedic texts. • Bhai Santokh Singh, the most prominent among the Nirmalas, did write his Garabganjani Tika, but he too was writing from within the Hindu framework and represented a deep Brahmanical influence. • The best representative of this school is Pandit Tara Singh Narotam. He wrote about a dozen books and is acknowledged as the first exegete of SGGS. However, his interpretation of Gurbani is based on Vedas, Puranas and other Hindu texts.
  11. 11. Western Scholars of Sikh lore • Gurnek covered all works of Western Scholars starting from Colonel A.L.H. Polier right up to W.H. Mcleod and his Sikh Scholars. • Ernest Trumpp’s English translation of Guru Granth Sahib was full of scorn for traditional interpretations of the faith, and his overt antipathy towards it earned him the reproach of the entire Sikh people.
  12. 12. Macauliffe’s Interpretation • “Macauliffe observed many moral and political merits in the Sikh religion. It does not allow idolatry, hyprocrisy, caste, exclusiveness, the cremation of widows, the immurement of women, the use of wine and other intoxicants, tobacoo smoking, infanticide, slander, pilgrimages to the sacred rivers and tanks of the Hindus. He was of the opinion that the Sikhs are not the Hindus. Thus he opposed to the idea of the Sikhs being declared to be Hindus because this idea was in direct opposition to the teachings of the Gurus. Thus in many ways Macauliffe’s work on interpretation of Sikhism was positive and it displaced Trumpp’s for the non-Sikh scholars as well”.
  13. 13. A Critique of Sikh Exegesis • Dr Taran Singh has given different modes of SGGS interpretation in his book.5 • The tikas attempted earlier to the twentieth century were coloured with veda, shastra and vedant interpretation. The exegetes while attempting tikas used to do this in the light of the ancient Indian religious lore. • Bhai Vir Singh, Professor Puran Singh, Kahan Singh Nabha, Teja Singh, Sahib Singh and Bhai Jodh Singh belong to Singh Sabha phase of SGGS interpretation. Bhai Kahan Singh published, Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahan Kosh in 1930. He also published Gurmat Prabhakar and Ham Hindu Nahin. In the last one he established that Sikh religion is an independent religion.
  14. 14. Schools of Sikh Exegetes • Joginder Singh mentioned five major Schools of Sikh exegesis7 : School of Meharban; School of Udasis; School of Nirmalas; School of Gianis, and School of Modern Scholars of Singh Sabha phase. • Recently, a new School of Scientists has appeared on the horizon of Sikh exegesis. • The present author made his first attempt in interpreting Sikh Cosmology in view of modern scientific theories in 1969. • DS Chahal claims to interpret Gurbani, or Nanakian Philosophy, scientifically and logically11.
  15. 15. Paradox of Scientific Exegesis • Science and Mysticism are two different modes of experiencing the Reality. While science lays stress on empirical facts and experimentation, mysticism relies more on intuition and transcendental experience. • Gurbani belongs to the realm of mysticism as Guru Nanak proclaims that he preaches what he experiences in his mystic reveries. • A difference of opinion exists between the Sikh theologians and Sikh scientists on exegesis of SGGS in modern scientific context.
  16. 16. Science & Sikh Religion • Professor Puran Singh lamented that the Guru’s message has been misinterpreted: “It is to be regretted that Sikh and Hindu scholars are interpreting Guru Nanak in the futile terms and dissecting texts to find the Guru’s meaning to be same as of the Vedas and Upanishads. This indicates enslavement to the power of Brahmanical traditions.”6 • In my personal view, a dialogue between Science and Sikh religion is need of the hour. We must promote Sikh religion and the message of Sri Guru Granth Sahib globally using modern communication skills at our disposal.

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