Sacred Literature & Sikh Studies

Is the ‘GurMantar’ really the first letters taken from the names – Vishnu, Hari Krishna, Govind and Raam?

We will discuss how the Pauri of Bhai Gurdas Ji to prove that its actual meanings are contrary to what is being propagated. Bhai Gurdas Ji in the last Pauri (49) of his first Vaar explains the significance of Gurmantar.

ਸਤਿਜੁਗ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਵਾਸਦੇਵ ਵਾਵਾ ਵਿਸ਼ਨਾ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥
ਦੁਆਪਰ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਹਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸ਼ਨ ਹਾਹਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮ ਧਿਆਵੈ॥
ਤ੍ਰੇਤੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਰਾਮ ਜੀ ਰਾਰਾ ਰਾਮ ਜਪੇ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਵੈ॥
ਕਲਿਜੁਗ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਗਗਾ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥
ਚਾਰੇ ਜਾਗੇ ਚਹੁ ਜੁਗੀ ਪੰਚਾਇਣ ਵਿਚ ਜਾਇ ਸਮਾਵੈ॥
ਚਾਰੋਂ ਅਛਰ ਇਕ ਕਰ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜਪ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥
ਜਹਾਂ ਤੇ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਫਿਰ ਤਹਾਂ ਸਮਾਵੈ॥੪੯॥੧॥

Some have misunderstood the implied meanings of the above Pauri and by distorting it conclude that Gurmantar is formed by taking first letter of each of the following names: Vishnu, Hari Krishna, Govind and Raam. Misinterpreted meanings of the Pauri to justify such a false theory are given below:

In Satyug, Vishnu in the form of Vasudev is said to have incarnated and ‘V’ Of Vaheguru reminds of Vishnu.
The True Guru of Dvapar is said to be Harikrishna and ‘H’ of Vaheguru reminds of Hari.
In the Treta was Ram and ‘R’ of Vaheguru tells that remembering Ram will produce joy and happiness.
In Kalyug, Gobind is in the form of Nanak and ‘G’ of Vaheguru gets Govind recited.
The recitations of all the four ages subsume in Panchayan i.e. in the soul of the common man.
When joining four letters Vaheguru is remembered,
The Jiv merges again in its origin.(49)

Bhai Veer Singh, a great scholar of 20th century has addressed this question in length in his commentary of Vaars[15] but we will summarize it briefly here along with providing additional clarification.
1) Vasudev did not incarnate in Satyug. In Hinduism, Vasudev name is used for Krishna who according to Hindu mythology took birth in Dwapar and not Satyug. The name Hari Krishna is already mentioned in the second line. Therefore, the suggested meanings of the Pauri are wrong because had Guru Sahib used God’s names from each Yug (time period) He would not have used two names of same incarnation from the same time period. Further, in Vaar 1 Pauri 5 line 4, Bhai Gurdas Ji states that according to Hindu mythology, Vishnu took form of Hansa (swan) in Satyug and propagated “So-han(g)” name meaning “that (God) which is I”. If we are to literally interpret the Pauri under discussion then letter ਸ(S), which is not found anywhere in Gurmantar, should have also been taken. Also, such literal interpretations would cause Vaars to suffer from contradictions. Further, it is irrational to believe that Vishnu took two different forms and propagated two separate names Vasudev and So-han(g) in the same time period.

2) If we consider, for the sake of argument, that first letter of each names listed above forms Gurmantar then its correct form would’ve been ਵਹਰਗ(Vhrg) but if we also take each vowel attached to the first letter then the form becomes ਵਾਹਗੋਰਾ(Vahgora). It is important to note that the order of Yugs (time periods) given in the Pauri is also not in order. Treta was the second time period followed by Dwapar whereas in the Pauri the order is reversed. If we correct the order then the form becomes ਵਾਹਰਾਗੋ(Vahrago). In order to make a correct form of Gurmantar out of these names, one will have to do the following:

ਵਾ– Taking Va as it is from Vasudev
ਹ– Taking H as it is from Hari and adding a sihari (ਿ) to it
ਗ– Taking G from Govind and replacing hora (ੋ) with aunkar (ੁ)
ਰ– Taking R from Raam and replacing kanna (ਾ) with dulainkar (ੂ)
One can see that the theory at its very face gets blown away because developing the correct form of Gurmantar without significant grammar modifications and alterations is not possible. It does not stop here. It also puts times periods out of order as: Satyug (1), Dwapar (3), Kalyug (4) and then Treta (2). Therefore, the theory that Vaheguru is taken from first letters of previously propagated names of God is a mere conjecture and hence, unsubstantiated and ridiculous.

3) Suggested meanings of line 4 are false. During the time of Bhai Gurdas Ji, Satguru was Guru HarGobind Sahib Ji. Therefore, from His name the letter ਹ(H) should have been chosen instead of picking the third letter ਗ(G). Bhai Sahib could not have been referring to Guru Gobind Singh Ji because He was not Satguru at the time. If one asserts that the meaning of line 4 suggests that Guru Nanak Sahib Ji taught the name Govind then the theory creates even more complicated dilemmas. If Guru Sahib taught Govind as the true name then it should have been Gurmantar but the fact that Govind name was already in existence and the misinterpreted meanings of the Pauri suggest that only first letter from Govind was taken to form a better name (Vaheguru), it does not add any weight to the argument.

4) Krishna and Rama were never considered Satguru. They were incarnations or called avatar of Vishnu but they were never given the status of Satguru. In fact, the word Satguru is not even mentioned with their names in any Hindu book. Satguru is the only being that does not need a Guru to obtain worldly or spiritual education. Satguru is always united with God. Krishna and Rama acquired religious knowledge from their human gurus Ghor Angra and Vishisht respectively.

In light of presented arguments, it is clear that the source of Gurmantar is not the names of Hindu incarnations. On the contrary, incarnations Vishnu, Krishna and Rama are not given any credence in Gurmat. A few quotes from Gurbani will illustrate the point:

  • ਕੋਟਿ ਬਿਸਨ ਅਵਤਾਰ ਸੰਕਰ ਜਟਾਧਾਰ॥ ਚਾਹਹਿ ਤੁਝਹਿ ਦਇਆਰ ਮਨਿ ਤਨਿ ਰੁਚ ਅਪਾਰ॥
  • Millions of incarnations of Vishnu and Shiva, with matted hair yearn for You, O Merciful Lord; their minds and bodies are filled with infinite longing. (Ang 455)
  • ਅਵਤਾਰ ਨ ਜਾਨਹਿ ਅੰਤੁ॥ ਪਰਮੇਸਰੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਬੇਅੰਤੁ॥੧॥
  • Incarnated beings do not know His limit. The Lord, the Supreme Lord God, is infinite. ||1|| (Ang 894)
  • ਕਾਹੂ ਨੇ ਰਾਮ ਕਹਯੋ ਕ੍ਰਿਸ਼ਨਾ ਕਹੁ ਕਾਹੂ ਮਨੈ ਅਵਤਾਰ ਨ ਮਾਨਯੋ॥ ਫੋਕਟ ਧਰਮ ਬਿਸਾਰ ਸਭੈ ਕਰ ਤਾਰ ਹੀ ਕਉ ਕਰਤਾ ਜੀਅ ਜਾਨਯੋ॥੧੨॥
  • Someone calls him Ram or Krishna and someone believes in His incarnations, but my mind has forsaken all useless actions and has accepted only the One Creator. ||12|| (33 Sawayeas, Guru Gobind Singh Ji)
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਹੋਰਿ ਕੇਤੇ ਰਾਮ ਰਵਾਲ॥
O Nanak, the Lord is fearless and formless; myriads of others, like Rama, are mere dust before Him. (Ang 464)
The quotes above evidently distinguish between Hindu incarnations and One Almighty God who is above them and their Creator. This is precisely why Guru Sahib considered appropriate to use words like Raam, Hari and Govind for the All-Powerful rather than for Hindu incarnations that are “mere dust” before Him. Scholars of 19th and 20th century have interpreted the Pauri differently but all are unanimous that it does not refer to any of the incarnations being Satguru in previous time period. Giani Sahib Singh, Kavi Santokh Singh, Pandit Tara Singh Narotam and Pandit Kartar Singh Dakha suggest that the names Vasudev, Hari, Raam and Govind must be interpreted on the basis of Gurbani in which these words are specifically used for God and therefore, refer to different attributes of God. All the words used for Hindu incarnations in Hindu mythology are used specifically for God in Gurbani. Sharad Chandra Verma states:

“Guru Nanak transcended the interpretations of the prevailing religious doctrines. He properly gave the evidence for the originality of his own doctrines. When he depicted the names of God as Rama or Krishna in his verses by that he did not mean incarnation of Vishnu, but the unincamate Absolute God. He not only described God as Rama or Krishna or Gopala, but also as Allah, Karim, Rahim.”[16]
To clarify the point further, for example, Raam and Vasudev are used to refer to Omnipresent God in the following verses:

  • ਰਮਤੁ ਰਾਮ ਸਭ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਮਾਇ॥
  • The Lord is ever-present, all-pervading. (Ang 865)
  • ਵਾਸੁਦੇਵ ਜਲ ਥਲ ਮਹਿ ਰਵਿਆ॥
The All-pervading Lord is permeating and pervading the oceans and the land. (Ang 259)
No individual can credibly assert that Vishnu and Rama Chandra are Omnipresent because they were kings in their time period and eventually were glorified by people and raised to the status of incarnations. Gurbani says:

ਜੁਗਹ ਜੁਗਹ ਕੇ ਰਾਜੇ ਕੀਏ ਗਾਵਹਿ ਕਰਿ ਅਵਤਾਰੀ॥ ਤਿਨ ਭੀ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ਤਾ ਕਾ ਕਿਆ ਕਰਿ ਆਖਿ ਵੀਚਾਰੀ॥੭॥
In each and every age, God creates the kings, who are sung of as His Incarnations (Avtars). Even they have not found God’s limits; what can I speak of and contemplate? ||7|| (Ang 423)

Other words like Hari, Govind, Banvari etc. used for Hindu incarnations in Hindu mythology are used to refer to One Almighty God in Gurmat. If a pagan was to assert that the word Allah in Quran refers to one of their idols, he would be clearly wrong and his claim would be dismissed as ridiculous and irrational because this word acquires special and specific meaning in the context of Quran. The point we emphasize is that when an already existing word is used in a different religious system, it acquires new definition, meaning and context and must be weighed according to the definitions and standards as outlined by the respective faith’s scriptures. In the same way, Hindu incarnations have nothing to do with the attributive names used for God in Gurbani. Gajinder Singh explains:

“When the Guru says that Ram and Allah are the same, he refers to it according to his definitions. Ram ceases to be a prince born in eastern India. Here Ram is God present within all creation.”[17]
Dr. Rohi states:

“In gurbani some names of God are used which were originally used for the names of incarnated gods of the polytheistic tradition but, the original monotheistic standpoint as revealed in the Sikh scripture and interpreted in the monotheistic framework was never shattered. All the names even of Hindu gods and of Islamic tradition were used according to the monotheistic model maintained by the Sikh theological formulation. In gurbani the same one Being was called Rama and Allah with equal theological meaning and respect.”[18]
Dr. Sher Singh further elucidates this point:

“It is not the letters or the sound symbols which have a meaning near God, but it is the mental content or the heart which is means of communion with God. It was this truth which did not make the guru prejudiced in favour of or against any name of God occurring in any language. Any name that he could recall (for God) was used by him.”[19]
Therefore, it is clear that words like Raam, Krishan, Allah etc. in Gurbani are used for the same God and not to describe Hindu or Islamic viewpoint of God.

Coming back to the topic, Sikh Sampardas (schools) like Damdami Taksal believe that only one letter of Gurmantar was revealed in each time period and never in its full form. The revelation of the whole Gurmantar is an honor only bestowed by God to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. From this, we deduce that the Gurmantar was not formed by taking each letter from the names of Hindu personalities incarnated in each age. On the contrary, it was a single letter of Gurmantar that was given to each previous Hindu incarnation. Thus, it adds greatness to Gurmat that God revealed full form of His Naam only to Guru Sahib.

Detailed discussion concerning source of Gurmantar proves beyond the doubt that it was revealed directly from God to Guru Sahib. Accordingly, the Pauri can be interpreted as follows:

In Satyug, Omnipresent Satguru (God) revealed the letter V which Vishnu (or his incarnation) used to meditate upon God. In Dwapar, Hari Satguru (God) revealed the letter H which Krishna reflected upon to remember God. In Treta, Omnipresent Satguru (God) gave R letter to Rama who obtained bliss and peace by meditating upon it. In Kalyug, Nanak Guru is Govind (One with God) who along with letter G revealed the entire word and completed the Gurmantar in its full form. He propagated it as Gurmantar to be meditated upon by everyone. Meditation upon Gurmantar will result in union between the disciple and God (it will take the disciple back to its source which is God). (Vaar 1, Pauri 49)

Thus, we conclude this section by emphasizing the undisputed fact that God is the source of Gurmantar that was revealed to Guru Sahib for meditation and is capable of uniting the disciple with the Ultimate Reality.

Author: Bijla Singh
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