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.