Academic Response to the position of Gurinder Mann (Santa Barbara)

Response to the controversial position of Gurinder Mann
The Goindval Pothis: The Earliest Extant Source of the Sikh Canon
Published in 1997

From the Book
History of the Sikhs and Their Religion
Volume I
The Guru Period (1469 – 1708 CE)
Edited by Kirpal Singh & Kharak Singh
Published in 2004
Available at University Academic Libraries
ISBN 81-8092-001-1
Book is Contributed by all of the scholars including, Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon (BSD), Dr. Dalbir Singh Dhillon (D.S.D), Dr. Dharam Singh (D.S.), Dr. Gurmukh Singh (G.S.), Dr. Harnam Singh Shan (H.S.S.), Dr. Jodh Singh (J.S), Dr. Kharak Singh (Kh.S), Dr. Kirpal Singh (K.S.), Principal Surjit Singh G (S.S.G)

Chapter 18 Guru Granth Sahib – The Eternal Guru
This Chapter is by Dr. Harnam Singh Shaan (H.S.S)

Page 354 – 355 Goindwal Pothis Earlier it was generally believed by most Sikh scholars that the Goindwal Pothis were the primary sources for the preparation of the Adi Granth. Bhai Santokh Singh, Giani Gian Singh, Baba Prem Singh Hoti, Bhai Kahn Singh, Bhai Vir Singh, Giani Gurdit Singh, and a number of other scholars held this view. Mehma Parkash, compiled by Sarup Das Bhalla in 1776 CE, refers to the compilation of pothis by Sahansar Ram, son of Baba Mohan, during the lifetime of Guru Amar Das. It is said that there used to be four pothis out of which only two are now extant. One is at Jalandhar, since the descendnts of Sahansar Ram shifted there, and the other is at Pinjore near Chandigarh. After the demise of Guru Amar Das, these pothis were allegedly in the custody of Baba Mohan, the eldest son of Guru Amar Das. Gurinder Singh Mann in his book, Goindwal Pothis, states:

…Guru Arjun temporarily brought these pothis to Amritsar at the turn of the seventeenth century and used them in the preparation of the Kartarpur Pothi. It seems natural that after the task was completed, the pothis were sent back. There is even a palanquin at Goindwal which, according to popular local tradition, was used to transport the pothis to and from Amritsar.

It is said that Guru Arjun himself went to Goindwal to bring these pothis from Baba Mohan, his mother’s elder brother, for preparation of the Sikh scripture. It is also allegedthat Guru Arjun had composed a shabad, “Mohan tere uche mandir…” in praise of Baba Mohan. Prof Sahib Singh, however, strongly refutes this view. He very cogently illustrates that the word ‘Mohan’ in this hymn has been used to address God, and not the son of the Third Nanak. The latest work on the subject of the compilation of Adi Granth is by Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon, titled Early Sikh Scriptural Tradition. Dr Dhillon has vergy cogently demonstrated that the Goindwal Pothis had been written after the compilation of the Adi Granth because hymns of Guru Arjun are found in these pothis. Also, on the index the recorded date is Samwat 1682 BK, Sawan Vadi 1, or July 10, 1625 CE. Balwant Singh Dhillon states:

The material evidence instead of proving the Ahiyapur Pothis to be of earlier origin points to the contrary. It is worth nothing that not only one but six hymns have been attributed to Mahala IV, i.e., Guru Ram Das.

He concludes: Evidently recording of hymns under authorship of Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjun would not have been possible of the compilation of Ahiyapur Pothi had been completed during the period of Guru Amardas. Similarly, Prof Pritam Singh, in his Punjabi book, Ahiyapurwali Pothi¸ comes to the conclusions that this pothi has not contributed in the compilation of the Adi Granth. It seems certain that the Goindwal Pothis were written after the compilation of the Adi Granth. Here the questions arises, if the Goindwal Pothis were compiled later, what was the purpose of Guru Arjun’s alleged visit to Goindwal, which as been so elaborately described by Sikh chroniclers of the later half of the eighteenth century. Balwant Singh Dhillon rejects this whole story of Guru Arjun’s visit to Goindwal. He writes:

Even the much publicized story of Guru Arjun’s visit to Baba Mohan at Goindwal to procure them (Goindwal Pothis) has been proved to be an apocryphal and a later concoction.

Prof Sahib Singh too is of the same opinion that the story of Guru Arjun’s visit lacks credibility. In his pioneering ten volume Punjabi Work, Guru Granth Darpan, he shows through the internal evidence of Gurbani that the whole story is a mere concoction with the aim to provide historical prominence to certain personages and their descendants.


From the Paper:

This paper was presented in International Sikh Conferences 2004


                                                                                                 Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon


                                                                                    Head Dept of Guru Nanak Studies


                                                                                               G.N.D. University, Amritsar  

3.2.1. GURU HAR SAHAI POTHI : The Pothi that was in the possession of Sodhi family of Guru Har Sahai, a village near Ferozepur in Punjab, had been claimed to be the original one entrusted by Guru Nanak to his successor, Guru Angad. It is said that Guru Arjan had inherited it through his predecessors and subsequently it remained in the possession of Prithi Chand and his descendents.15 Recently, it has been argued that even though Guru Har Sahai Pothi was not the original manuscript attributed to Guru Nanak, “it may have been a copy of the manuscript that represented the core of the Sikh scriptural corpus.”16 Although the Pothi is no more available for examination, however, its characteristic features reported by the scholars who had an opportunity to examine it from close quarters point to the contrary.

3.2.2. On the basis of available evidence we can safely say that neither the text of the Pothi had belonged to the main tradition nor it was even remotely concerned with the sources of the Adi Granth. There are strong reasons to believe that in order to enhance their socio-religious clout as well as to appropriate maximum public offerings; the Sodhi family of Guru Har Sahai had circulated the Pothi in their possession as the original one belonging to Guru Nanak. Contrary to their claim, this Pothi’s movement from Guru Arjan to Prithi Chand or his son, Miharban, is highly suspect. Since Giani Gurdit Singh who had a fairly good time to examine it, was unable to scrutinize it fully, especially the earlier part17, therefore, his exercise to divide it into three parts seems to be quite arbitrary. Significantly, its various parts had not been assigned separate folio numbers’ instead the whole Pothi had folios marked in continuous order. Internal evidence contained in the Pothi, for example, the mention of Prithi Chand’s date of death which occurred in 1619 C.E.18, an entry of 1618 C.E. relating to the family accounts, and reference to a new index prepared in 1625 C.E.,19 suggest that it had its origin in the post-Adi Granth period. Most probably it was scribed between 1606-1625 C.E. It appears that some of its portions had even continued to be scribed during the lifetime of Miharban.20

3.2.3 Some of the internal features of the Pothi viz., use of Mul-Mantra identical to that of the Minas,21 entry of Prithi Chand’s date of death, addressing the Bhagats as Gosains on the Mina pattern,22 inclusion of Miharban’s writings, resemblance of Shaikh Farid’s salokas with the text of Masale Sheikh Farid ke authored by Miharban or his descendants,23 inclusion of Krishna-bhakti poetry,24 etc., are some of the important features which suggest that it had originated in the camp opposed to Guru Arjan. Therefore, its production can in no way be attributed to Guru Nanak and his early successors. Instead of representing the main Sikh tradition it is closely related to the schismatic stream given birth by the rivals of the Sikh Gurus, especially the Minas. The text of Bhagat-bani included in it certainly belonged to a different tradition than that of the Adi Granth. Actually, the Pothi had represented an entirely different tradition, developed and nurtured by the Minas. To call it a text of pre-scriptural Sikh tradition originating from the time of Guru Nanak is totally unfounded.

3.3.1. THE GOINDWAL POTHIS: Some of the traditional Sikh sources have recounted that before taking up the compilation of the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan had approached Baba Mohan at Goindwal requesting him to lend the Pothis in his possession which were said to have been prepared under the guidance of Guru Amar Das. 25 At present two Pothis popularly known as the Goindwal Pothis are in the possession of two Bhalla families who claim to have inherited them from Baba Mohan through successive generations. Some scholars consider them important manuscripts which help us to understand the formation of early Sikh canon. 26 on the other hand some scholars believe that these Pothis do not belong to the main Sikh scriptural tradition and had been of no use for Guru Arjan in compiling the Adi Granth.27

3.3.2 On the basis of our study of the extant Goindwal Pothis, we can state that though these texts have been a much touted source of the Sikh canon, yet no contemporary source of Sikh history alludes to them. Even the much publicized story of Guru Arjan’s visit to Baba Mohan at Goindwal to procure them has been proved to be an apocryphal and a later concoction.28 The extant Goindwal Pothis, said to be compiled under the direction of Guru Amar Das, had surfaced only in 1895 C.E.29 Actually, it was the debate generated by Panch Khalsa Diwan, Bhasaur, over the issue of Bhagat-bani, which had brought the Pothis into the limelight. Due to the non-accessibility of the Pothis, it has always been an uphill task to get information about their contents, Resultantly, scholars have to depend heavily on Bawa Prem Singh’s study conducted in the 1940s.30 Since, he was held in high esteem among his contemporary Sikh scholars, therefore the traditional Sikh scholarship did not see any reason to disbelieve his observations and they took the authenticity of the extant Pothis for granted without putting these to any critical examination. Subsequently, a number of misconceptions originating from Bawa Prem Singh have become nearly the established facts.

3.3.3 Traditional sources would make us believe that Sahansar Ram was the sole scribe of the Goindwal Pothis, but on closer examination penmanship of two more scribes is also quite visible. Some scholars feel that these Pothis had been got prepared by Guru Amar Das to serve the purpose of a scripture for the Sikhs. If it were so, then the Japuji, the most significant Bani of the Sikhs, should have been recorded on the initial folios of first Juzu. But physiognomical features of the extant Pothis, reveal that the Japuji figured nowhere in their scribal scheme. The ragas included in the Pothis neither have the writings of the first three Sikh Gurus nor of the Bhagats in their entirety. Even the Bani of Guru Amar Das, has not been preserved in its totality.31 Omissions are so severe that they do not allow us to believe that Guru Amar Das had got these Pothis prepared to serve the purpose of the Sikh scripture.

3.3.4. On close perusal we find that no uniform pattern has been followed to differentiate the authorship of various compositions. In fact attribution of some hymns has been wrongly entered.33 The sequence of ragas, their distinct modes and tunes33 are radically different from that of the Adi Granth tradition. The musicological traces and textual variants,34 especially the ‘fillers’ and ‘vocatives’ indicate that the text of Goindwal Pothis instead of coming down from the scribal tradition, belongs to a musicological tradition. Inclusion of kachi-bani is one of the most prominent features of the extant Goindwal Pothis. Some extra-canonical writings attributed to the Sikh Gurus and Bhagats, and some apocryphal writings attributed to Gulam Sada Sewak and Sharaf are also included in the Pothis.35. Apparently, kachi-bani of the Pothis36 had not found favour with Guru Arjan to be included in the Adi Granth. If these Pothis were a genuine product originating from Guru Amar Das and had provided a basis for preparing the Adi Granth, then what were the reasons for Guru Arjan to exclude some of its writings? It seems highly unlikely that Guru Amar Das would have included kachi-bani in the scripture compiled by him, which would have been rejected by Guru Arjan while editing the Adi Granth, including some hymns attributed to his father, Guru Ram Das. The fact of existence of kachi-bani in the extant Goindwal Pothis, severely undermines their claim to be the original product belonging to Guru Amar Das. In fact, inclusion of kachi-bani is a pointer to the fact that these Pothis owe their origin to schismatic trends in Sikhism.

3.3.5. Some scholars are inclined to suggest that the Mul-Mantra recorded in the Goindwal Pothis represents its earlier form37. But in fact, the scribe has not adhered to one version and has been modifying it on the succeeding folios. The Mul-Mantra found recorded at various folios is full of incoherent features38. We find that along with God, Guru Nanak has also been invoked, which is totally inconceivable for a Mul-Mantra coming down from the founder of Sikhism himself. Although these pothis are said to have been recorded during Guru Amar Das’ pontificate, yet the internal evidence of the Pothis points to the contrary. The colophon recorded in the Ahiyapur Pothi (one of these Pothis) explicitly refers to Magh vadi 1, 1652 Bk. (Jan. 7, 1596), as the date on which the scribing job was completed39 It is well supplemented by the fact that scores of hymns have been recorded under the authorship of Mahala 4 and Mahala 5.40 Obviously, the scribing date of Ahiyapur Pothi in no way can be pushed back before Jan.1596 C.E.

3.3.6. To identify Gulam Sada Sewak of the Goindwal Pothis with Guru Ram Das is totally uncalled for. Obviously it has been given currency in the recent past to legitimize the apocryphal writings of these Pothis.41 Similarly, the story of the presence of the autographs of Guru Ram Das on the Pothis is not borne out of facts but is an imagination of recent origin.42 The colophon preserved in the Ahiyapur Pothi exhorts that its custodians had the blessings of three generations of the Sikh Gurus that anyone following the Guru other than their progeny would certainly go to hell. It leaves no room to disbelieve that the extant Goindwal Pothis owe their origin to the sectarian developments in Sikhism. The textual variants, instead of proving them close to the Adi Granth, indicate that the extant Goindwal Pothis represent a different recessions that owes its origin to the Bhalla tradition. Significantly, some of the features of these Pothis establish their close connection with the sectarian literature produced by Miharban and his descendants.43 Like the Anandu Parmarth of Harji, stanza No. 34 (Mani chao bhaia) has been dropped from the text of Anandu of Guru Amar Das incorporated in the Pinjore Pothi. In fact Anandu’s internal arrangement is very much identical to the version of Harji.44 Similarly, like Harji’s Janamsakhi of Guru Nanak, a hymn of the first Master has been wrongly attributed to Guru Angad.45 Some of the extra-canonical padas, namely Daian dare sunhe dora and Narad kahai sunhu narain, belonging to Kabir and Namdev respectively, also occur in the Mina works. Significantly, Shah Sharaf’s writing found recorded in the Ahiyapur Pothi, is partially available in Masle Shaikh Farid Ke, a Mina product. Perhaps taking cue from Miharban, the scribe of the extant Goindwal Pothis has tried to depict the Bhagats, namely Kabir and Namdev, as the devotees of Guru Nanak. Even some of the titles and vocatives such as Bolna Babe Patshah ka strike a similar chord with Sri Satguru Miharvan ji ka bolna in the Mina literature. Moreover, some of the features of the Mul-Mantra of the Goindwal Pothis are strikingly similar to the Mul-Mantra of Miharban’s literature. All these factors put together indicate that either the scribe of the Goindwal Pothis was under the strong influence of the rivals of Guru Arjan, especially the Minas or the tradition of Goindwal Pothis has developed in close proximity to the Mina tradition. Why do the two traditions have so much in common? Which tradition has borrowed from the other or which one was thriving on the other are important issues that require in-depth investigations. 3.3.7. From the above facts, we are inclined to say that the text of the extant Goindwal Pothis instead of coming down from a scribal tradition nurtured by the Sikh Gurus, belongs predominantly to a musicological tradition, patronized by the Bhallas at Goindwal and carries marked resemblance with the Mina tradition. The notion that the extant Goindwal Pothis had been prepared under the direction of Guru Amar Das and represent a pre-canonical stage of Sikh scripture, thus finds no validity. In fact, instead of representing the pre-scriptural tradition of the main Sikh stream, the extant Goindwal Pothis represent a recension that had its origin in the sectarian developments in Sikhism. On the whole, the role of these Pothis in the canonization of the Adi Granth, is more imaginary than real.

3.4.1. MS # 1245: The recently surfaced MS # 1245 (GNDU) has generated a lot of controversy in the field of Sikh studies. While a scholar calls it to be an anterior and unique manuscript, another finds it to be an early draft “on which Guru Arjan seems to have worked to finally produce the text of the Adi Granth.46 Our analysis of this manuscript reveals that scholars of Sikh texts have failed to examine it rigorously and thoroughly. Ironically, instead of making an honest and objective exercise, vital internal evidence has been suppressed and mis-statements and mis-representation of facts have been made. Amazingly, the features, such as various omissions, incomplete text, irregularities between the index and text, scribal and musical variants, violation of structural pattern, confusion about authorship, inclusion of kachi-bani etc., which jeopardize its credentials as a genuine product of the main stream, have been taken to prove its earlier origin.47 Internal evidence indicates that its scribe has depended heavily on another source to prepare it. It is a neatly written document. Unlike a draft, it is free from cuttings, over writings and erasures. Obviously, such an attempt would not have been possible if the scribe had no access to another source. This manuscript has been considered an independent and sporadic attempt. But to record such a voluminous work that too with illumination seems to be impossible in medieval times unless and until its scribe had the patronage of a group or an institution. However, it remains to be determined as to who were the persons or group behind its compilation?

3.4.2 The inclusion of the Ratanmala, a hath-yoga treatise suggests its scribe’s inclination towards ascetic ideals. The subject of most of the apocryphal writings revolves around Sant, Sadh, Sadhsang and Satiguru. Though, these subjects are not alien to Sikhism, yet frequent reference to them indicates that the authors of apocrypha were more concerned about personal guruship and asceticism. The most significant fact is that the text of Japuji of this manuscript resembles with the Japu Parmarth of Harji, a grandson of Prithi Chand.48 Likewise, in the earlier collections of the Mina tradition prepared under the guidance of Miharban, the whole corpus of Bhagat-bani had been excluded from it. Similarly, following in the footsteps of the Mina literature, Kalh Bhatt has been recalled as Kala Bhatt. We have also evidence to the effect that the earlier collections of the Minas comprised the panegyrics of Kalh Bhatt alone49. All the 32 swayyas found recorded in this manuscript has also turned out to be the compositions of the Kalh Bhatt. Moreover, in the full as well as the short form of Mul-Mantra, this manuscript employs Satiguru Parsadi or Sri Satiguru Parsadi which is again a most distinctive feature of the Mina version of Mul-Mantra. The date of Guru Nanak’s demise (Samat 1595, Assu vadi 10) found recorded in the chart of death-dates of this manuscript is the same which we find inscribed for the first time in Mina documents. Attempts at forgery, fabrication and above all the modus operandi to circulate the apocryphal writings, associate it with the dissenters within the Sikh Panth. It should be remembered that after preparing a compilation, Miharban had made copies to distribute and install them in various establishments loyal to him. Its features common to the Mina tradition suggest that most probably this manuscript has originated in the above environment and sequence. To preempt this objection as well as to prove its earlier origin, reference is made to an extra-canonical hymn that it “refers to the Minas for instigating Sulhi Khan to attack Guru Arjan’s establishment.”50 But this is totally unfounded, as the composition in question carries no reference to Sulhi Khan. Instead it alludes to the arrest and execution of a person, along with his followers by a ruler.51

3.4.3. A deeper analysis reveals that the index and text of many ragas are not in conformity with each other. The serial numbers recorded for the incomplete hymns, suggest that information of total hymns in a particular raga was available to the scribe. Mention of Satta and Balwand’s var in the index of Ramkali mode proves that he was aware of it. The apocryphal writings have been inserted at the end of metres of ragas. Instances of their entry into the index inserted later on are also clearly visible. All these features establish that prior to this manuscript the arrangement and pattern to record Gurbani had already been fixed. The authorship of some of the hymns has been confused, so much so that at a time a hymn has been attributed to two authors. Whereas a large number of hymns have been omitted, yet many others have been repeated. The text of a sizeable number of hymns is incomplete. It is replete with scribal mistakes and modifications.52 these facts prove that it is not only an incorrect but also an incomplete document. One should hesitate to call it an earlier draft on the basis of orthography too, because besides the dot, we also find the usage of half kanna in it. Examples of text filled in later on in a different hand are clearly visible. To associate it with Bhai Gurdas and Baba Buddha is absolutely illogical because no internal or external evidence proves this.53 Its scribe has brought various modifications into the text, probably to suit musical requirements. Amazingly, most of the incomplete as well as repeated hymns, belong to Guru Arjan. Similarly, the major portion of apocrypha has been attributed to the fifth Master, but the same has not found favour with him for inclusion in the Adi Granth 41. These are some of the strong reasons to disbelieve that Guru Arjan has prepared it. Obviously, an impure, incomplete and incorrect manuscript could not become a basis for editing the Adi Granth. The dates of passing away of the first five Sikh Gurus, Nisan of Guru Tegh Bahadur, orthographic style and textual variants suggest that it is a post-Adi Granth product.

3.4.4. Its many resemblances with the Mina text lead us to suggest that it belongs to a text family, which may have developed in close proximity to the Mina tradition. The evidence at hand indicates that its scribe had depended on a number of sources rather than a single document. Whether it was the result of cross-fertilization between different recessions? Or was it a cautious blend of various text families? These are very pertinent issues that are yet to be explored satisfactorily. Whatever may be the case, it is quite evident that on the one hand its scribe has tried to put together all the kachi-bani writings attributed to the Sikh Gurus and on the other he has omitted recording the more well-known compositions that were in his full knowledge. On the basis of these facts we can argue that MS # 1245 was a deliberate act of editing on the part of its scribe or the patrons, who were weary of some writings that have been made part of the Adi Granth. It means even after the establishment of the canon in 1604 C.E., some sections within the Panth had continued to compile collections of Bani that were not strictly canonical in nature. In which part of the Sikh world and among whom these types of collections were popular, are the issues which are wide open for the debate. Anyway, on the basis of textual analysis of MS # 1245, we can state that neither it is an “earlier draft” nor has it served as a source for compiling the Adi Granth. Rather it represents a different recension that was predominantly musical in nature.

3.4.5. A careful examination of the above three documents reveals that a number of textual variants have crept into their texts. The variety of the textual variants present in them prove that neither of them is a direct copy of each other nor would they have been the basis for the Adi Granth. We can very safely state that the above three sources have not descended one after another in the same tradition, rather they represent three different traditions. These manuscripts are the product of groups or people who were interested in preserving and propagating a particular recession of bani other than the one that we have in the form of Adi Granth.

3.4.6. On the basis of internal evidence we can say that these sources are in no way ancestral to the Adi Granth. Instead of sharing a common tradition with it, the sources in question belong to different traditions, which were predominantly musical as well as sectarian in nature. Therefore, to call one of the above-mentioned documents as an earlier draft of the Adi Granth is totally unfounded and uncalled for.


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