Foundations of Gurbani


Guru Arjun Dev Sahib Jee has given respect to Bhai Gurdaas Jee’s     Banee calling it the key to opening the treasure of Guru Granth Sahib Jee.  Bhai Gurdaas Jee’s Kabits (poems) give importance of Shudh Ucharan with each individual character.

ਜੈਸੇ ਲਗ ਮਾਤ੍ਰ ਹੀਨ, ਪੜਤ ਅਉਰ ਕਉ ਅਉਰ, ਪਿਤਾ ਪੂਤ ਪੂਤ ਪਿਤਾ, ਸਮਸਰਿ ਜਾਨੀਐ ||

If all the characters (ਲਗ) in a word are not properly pronounced, the word loses its literal meaning. It’s like calling a father the son, or a son the father. Bhai Sahib Ji goes on to state that:

ਕੋਟਨਿ ਕੋਟਨਿ ਤਿਲ ਮਹਿਮਾ ਅਗਾਧਿ ਬੋਧਿ ਨਮੋ ਨਮੋ ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਦਰਸ ਸਬਦ ਸ੍ਰੋਤ ਕੈ||

The praise of viewing and visualizing (ਦ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਦਰਸ) Banee and hearing it with your ears (ਸ੍ਰੋਤ) cannot be written down.



ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਮੂਰਤਿ; ਮਨ ਮਹਿ ਧਿਆਨੁ|| ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਮਨੁ ਮਾਨ|| (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang (Page) 864)

Here, Guru Arjan Dev Ji asks us to (ਧਿਆਨੁ) focus on (ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਮੂਰਤਿ)  image of the Guru in our (ਮਨ) minds. And Bhai Gurdaas Ji explains it further that Guru’s image is the Guru’s Shabd.

ਗੁਰ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਹੈ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਮਿਲਿ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਵੇਲਾ||

Hence, there is immense importance of concentrating on the the spellings of Gurbani.


Words are written in Gurbani with very unique spellings which serve as a tool for focusing our mind, stopping outside thoughts and providing everlasting peace. For example,

ਕਵਣੁ ਸੁ ਵੇਲਾ, ਵਖਤੁ ਕਵਣੁ; ਕਵਣ ਥਿਤਿ, ਕਵਣੁ ਵਾਰੁ||

ਕਵਣਿਸਿ ਰੁਤੀ. ਮਾਹੁ ਕਵਣੁ; ਜਿਤੁ ਹੋਆ ਆਕਾਰੁ||

In the above lines from Jap Ji Sahib, “Kavan” is written in 3 different ways with the same meaning. And if you lay stress on reading the words the way they are, Guru Sahib blesses you with internal peace that you long for!

Guru Hargobind Ji’s blessings

Sakhi Bhai Gopala Jee :

Upon the victory of the Second Hargobindpur battle, Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee had set up a congregation for the sangat and the fallen Shaeeds.  After the war Gurusahib’s state of mind was one of gratitude and calmness.  GuruSahib looked to the sangat and did Benti to all his sikhs.  He asked if there is any sikh who can recite Sri JapJi Sahib Jee correctly with all the characters and full focus. One of GuruSahib Jee’s sikhs, Bhai Gopala Jee obtained shudh santhya from Guru Arjun Dev Sahib Jee himself. Bhai Sahib gets up and does Benti to Guru Hargobind Sahib Maharaj to give him the strength and blessing to recite Sri Jap Ji Sahib.   Pleased, GuruSahib gave Bhai Gopala Jee a seat at the highest point of the congregation.

Sitting infront of GuruSahib, Bhai Gopala Jee first contemplated on Sahib Sri Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Jee’s name and then began to recite Sri JapJiSahib Jee. With full focus and concentration he recited Ik Oankar with correct pronounciation and characters.  Then he continued in the same manner with Satnam. Upon hearing the beautiful Banee, Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee bowed down to the Gurshabad Banee. Then GuruSahib proceeds to clasp his hands and pay reverence to Bhai Gopala Jee.

Upon hearing the BaneeGuruSahib was overcome with euphoria.  He was so pleased with the way Bhai Gopala Jee was doing Banee that he thought to himself, what could I possibly give in return for hearing Banee so beautifully? If I make him emperor of the world, thats temporal.  What should be given to award such beautiful recitation of Banee?

With their heart full of love, Guru Hargobind Sahib Jee decided to give him the one kingdom that was eternal: Guru Nanak Dev Sahib Jee’s Throne.  Guru Sahib moved one of his knees to get up from their throne and give the Gursikh their seat.  At that point, JapJi Sahib had reached the final stanza.  After seeing GuruSahib get up, Bhai Gopala jee’s concentration was dissrupted, a thought crossed his mind that Guru Sahib was leaving. Bhai GopalaJee thought if Guru Sahib did not leave, Guruji would gift him a royal horse from GuruSahib’s stable.   Understanding BhaiSahib’s sudden thought, GuruSahib gets up at the completion of JapJi Sahib and hugs Bhai Gopala Jee.  Guru Sahib tells him that ‘I was about to give you Guru Nanak DevJee’s crown had you not asked for a horse.’

GuruSahib was so pleased that he gave Bhai Sahib blessings after granting him the royal horse. Bhai Sahib’s life was blessed and he was free from the birth and death cycle.  He was liberated from all his sorrow and pains in the physical and afterlife. Guru Sahib goes on further to say that any wishes that you may ever have will come to fruitation instantly. The importance of doing Shudh Banee cannot be understated. If GuruSahib himself was about to give his throne based on the correct recitation of Bani,  imagine how much significance reciting Shudh Banee holds.

Linguistic research

The debate surrounding correct pronunciation of Gurbani started around 1975. However, before this there had been written works on Gurbani language, such as by Bhai Randhir Singh Ji, Principal Teja Singh and Prof. Sahib Singh where the Gurbani pronunciation was commented. The issue of correct pronunciation of Gurbani was discussed at a Path-Bodh Samagam held in Amritsar. Giani Gurditt Singh, a famous Panthic scholar made the first lecture on this issue. This debate was also published in the ’Singh Sabha Patrika’, a monthly journal at that time edited by Giani ji.

The major argument of Giani Gurditt Singh was that Gurbani pronunciation should follow the norm of contemporary Punjabi language. His view was that the Gurbani language was infact the language spoken in Punjab at that time, i.e. the Puratan Punjabi. This view was also supported by Principal Harbhajan Singh in his book Gurbani Sampadan Nirnay, written in 1981. These scholars followed the approach by Prof. Sahib Singh and his views about the compilation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

However, this view was criticized by Sirdar Inder Singh, a member of the Chief Khalsa Diwan, Delhi. In 1985, Inder Singh and a famous Punjabi linguist, Dr Harkeerat Singh published a work on the pronunciation of Gurbani. The two scholars again published a book the issue in 1993, and Harkeerat Singh has also commented the issue in detail in his latest book, Gurbani di Bhasa te Vyakaran, from 1997.

The linguistic approach to this problem is that langauge does not have a fixed share or form, it evolves with time. The Bani found in Sri Guru Granth Sahib was written between 1173 AD (Baba Farid) and 1675 AD (Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib), and it is natural that there is a great linguistic variation between these five hundred years. Therefore, we find differences in not only grammar, but also the vocabulary and the pronunciation. This explains why we find several forms of spellings and sentence-formations in Gurbani.

The three major arguments found in the writings of Harkeerat Singh have their background in this view. He says that the Puratan Punjabi had different tones as compared with the modern Punjabi. At that time, he says, only the vocabulary was taken by Arabic and Persian, not the pronunciation. Thus, the words found in Gurbani without the pairibindi, that we today write with that sign, were pronounced without those sounds in the Guru-period. Secondly, he says that Gurbani langauge was influenced by the Lahndi dialect (or Multani), that was considered the standard Punjabi at the time. Later on, the standard became the central Punjabi dialect of Amritsar (Majhi or Taksali boli). While, the Lahndi had very little nasal sounds, the Amritsari dialect had developed the sounds represented by the tippi and the bindi. However, when Gurbani was written it was pronounced without these sounds, as was the case with the Lahndi dialect. Therefore, Gurbani does not have these signs at places where we today would write them to show the nasal sounds.

The third major debate is about the value of sihari and aunkar. In this view, Prof. Sahib Singh, Teja Singh and Bhai Randhir Singh had said that these represent the grammatical structure of the Shabad-vak, and are interpretive tools, and may not be pronounced. However, Harkeerat Singh has also breaked away from the grammarians at this point saying that as Punjabi language developed from the Prakrit and Apabhrãshas, these langauges had sihari and aunkar both in writing and pronunciation. Thus, the siharis and aunkars found in Gurbani should be pronouned, according to this view.

This makes Harkeerat Singh and Inder Singh’s arguments very clear, meaning that Gurbani should be pronounced with all the vowels and consonants as expressed in the Gurmukhi script. Every symbol found in Gurbani is there because it was pronounced in the original tongue of the Guru-period.

However, Principal Harbhajan Singh of Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar did not agree with this argumentation. He replied Harkeerat Singh in his book Jawab-ul-Jawab.

In the recent years much has been written on this subject. Many works have been written on the Gurbani pronunciation. Readers who are interested in knowing the different views should see the detailed list of books. However, the works of Principal Harbhajan Singh, Giani Gurditt Singh and Dr Harkeerat Singh are recommended as they give unbiased insight to follow the debate surrounding the pronunciation of Gurbani.


Bachan Singh Sohi, Giani. Guru te Gurbani: Gurbani Uchar-Bhed. Ludhiana: Lahore Book Shop, 1997.

Dhanna Singh, Bhai. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji di Gurbani da Shudh Ucharan. Amritsar: Pingalwara , 1996.

Gurbani da Shudh Ucharan. Ludhiana: Sikh Missionary College.

Gurditt Singh, Giani.ed. Singh Sabha Patrika: Path-Bodh Ank. Parts 1-3 (August-September-October 1979).

Harbhajan Singh, Principal. Gurbani Sampadan Nirnay. Chandigarh: Satnam Parkashan, 1981.

Harbhajan Singh, Principal. Jawab-ul-Jawab. [Amritsar: Sikh Missionary College]

Harkeerat Singh and Inder Singh. Gurbani da Shudh Ucharan. Amritsar: Chief Khalsa Diwan, 1985.

Harkeerat Singh and Inder Singh. Gurbani Ucharan-Smikhya. Amritsar: Adhiatmak Vichar Kendar, 1993.

Jeet Singh, Giani. Gurbani da Shudh Ucharan. Bombay.

Joginder Singh Talwara, Giani. Gurbani da Shudh Ucharan. Amritsar: Singh Brothers.

Smikhya Shudh Gurbani Ucharan di. ed. Dr. Anokh Singh. Bathinda: Pub. author, 2000.

Gurbani and Grammar

Some people are of the view that the Sihari ( ਿ) and Aunkar ( ੁ) in Gurbani function as grammatical symbols and should not be pronounced. We look at this differently. Waheguru, is the wonderful Guru, in the form of 10 Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Gurbani). Gurbani is everyone’s Guru. It is with the power of Gurbani that creation came into being ‘ਕੀਤਾ ਪਸਾਉ ਏਕੋ ਕਵਾਉ ||’ It is with Gurbani that all creation is in balance and nourishing ‘ਨਾਮ ਕੇ ਧਾਰੇ ਸਗਲੇ ਜੰਤ || There is nothing in the Universe that is greater than Gurbani ‘ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਬਾਣੀ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਹੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ||’

Hence, grammar is a subset of Gurbani and Gurbani is not under the rules of grammar. Sometimes, grammatical concepts do help to understand meanings of Gurbani but not at all times. At places, they become irrelevant. Hence, all vowels and consonants in Gurbani should be pronounced keeping in mind utmost respect for every letter of Gurbani.


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