Sacred Literature & Sikh Studies

What is the arrangement and layout of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji?

Guru Arjan Dev Ji planned to arrange the writing not by subject, but accordingly to musical measures, or ‘Raags’ in which the hymns are meant to be sung. The composition which is musical is also metrical, and so follows definite metrical schemes. So on this basis, the Hymns of Shabads are divided into different parts or padas. Each pada consists of one or more verses. The other divisions are pauris, sloks, chants, svaiyyas, etc.

There are some compositions with special headings and with special meaning or for specific purposes like ‘Laavaa(n)’, the marriage song written by Guru Raam Daas Ji. The Saloks of all the Gurus were at one place. Vaars were only composed of pauris. According to the subject of the Vaars, Guru Arjan Dev Ji selected the saloks and put them with the pauris. The saloks which were left over were put at the end under the heading of ‘Salok Vaaraa(n) Te Vadheek’. So, in this way the Pothi was divided into four major parts.

First came the Banis of the Nitnem – Jap Ji Sahib, Rehraas Sahib and Sohila Sahib. Second was the Bani in Raags, which makes the major portion of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Each Raag starts with the compositions of the Gurus and ends with those of the Bhagats. Third was that Bani which was not in a specific Raag. That is saihaskritee saloks of Bhagat Kabir Ji and Bhagat Farid Ji, and Svaiyyas of Guru Arjan Dev Ji and the bards (Bhatts). The fourth and last portion was the remaining saloks and concluding hymn, ‘Mundaavanee’ (seal) written by Guru Arjan Dev Ji. At the end of most copies of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is Raagmala, the list of the Raags in the sequence of the traditional Indian catalogue style popular then.

The authenticity of Raagmala being the work of the Sikh Gurus and whether it should be included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is an unresolved controversy in the Panth, and therefore the Panth decided for the unity of the Panth that Raagmala is included in all printed Saroops of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, however the choice of whether one wishes to read or not is left to the individual. Raagmala must not be read as an index of raags of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, for it is only a list of popular raags sung at the time period of Sikh Gurus. Moreover there are raags mentioned in the Raagmala which are not included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, and there are raags used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji which are not mentioned in the Raagmala. In fact the Raagmala included in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is no way related to the raags used by the Sikh Gurus to compose their revealed hymns. It is just an independent list of raags based on Hanumant School of music. It is also important to note that unlike various Schools of Music and the Raagmala, there is no mention of raagnis (consort of raags) or their sons in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

The whole Bani of all the Gurus including the Bani of Guru Arjan and the Bani of the Bhagats is in thirty Raags. The thirty Raags are as follows: Sri, Maajh, Gauree, Aasa, Goojaree, Devgandhaaree, Bihaagraa, Vadhans, Sorath, Dhanaasree, Jaitsree, Todee, Bairaaree, Tiland, Soohee, Bilaaval, Gau(n)d, Ramkalee, Natnaaraaion, Maalee Gaurhaa, Maaroo, Tukhaaree, Kedaaraa, Bhairao, Basant, Saarang, Maljar, Kannaraa, Kaliaan and Prabhaatee.

The thirty-first Raag in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is “JaiJavantee.” It was added there by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It contains the Bani of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji only, the ninth Master, and was added when Guru Gobind Singh Ji in 1708 compiled Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji from his memory at Dam Dama Sahib (Bhatinada district-Panjab).

The Raags are further divided into the nature of the metre:

1. Chaupadas: an average of four verses each

2. Ashtpadis: an average of eight verses each

3. Special long poems

4. Chhants: six line verses

5. Special short poems

6. Vars: consisting of two or more paragraphs (Sloks) followed by a concluding stanza (Pauri)

7. Poems of Bhagatas (various saints)

Guru Arjan Dev Ji put the Guru’s Bani in order: Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Guru Amar Daas Ji, Guru Raam Daas Ji and Guru Arjan Dev Ji. Guru Angad Dev Ji’s sloks he put in the vars and slok Vaaraa(n) te vadheek. Following Guru’s Bani he put the Bani of the Bhagats. There is Bani of fifteen Bhagats: Bhagat Kabir Ji, Bhagat Naam Dev Ji, Bhagat Trilochan Ji, Bhagat Jai Dev Ji, Bhagat Shaikh Fariid Ji, Bhagat Sadhana Ji, Bhagat Beni Ji, Bhagat Ramanand Ji, Bhagat Ravi Daas Ji, Bhagat Peepaa Ji, Bhagat Sain Ji, Bhagat Dhanna Ji, Bhagat Bhikhan Ji, Bhagat Parmanand Ji and Bhagat Sur Daas Ji. He also put the hymns of three devoted Sikhs: Baba Sundar Ji in Raag Ramkalee, and also Bhai Satta Ji & Bhai Balwand Ji.

He put the svaiyye of eleven Bhatts (Bards) following his own svaiyye. The svaiyye written by Bhatts are in praise of all the five Gurus from Guru Nanak Dev Ji to Guru Arjan Dev Ji. The eleven bards are as follows: Kal Sahar Ji, Jalap Ji, Kirat Ji, Bhikha Ji, Sal Ji, Bhal Ji, Nal Ji, Gayand Ji, Mathura Ji, Bal Ji and Harbans Ji.

While compiling the Aad Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Arjan Dev Ji specifically took care of the following things:

(1) He rejected the Raags which were expressive of excessive exuberance or sadness.

(2) He did not use Raags according to the Indian catalogue style popular in those times, as the raags were divided into families, sons, daughters, and wives called Raaginis. But Guru Arjan Dev Ji did not make any distinction between a raag and a raagini. Raaginis were also used as raags. Raag literally means something that colors or tints the mind with some definite feeling. Raag also means love.

(3) He did not include the poetry of the saints which gave the slightest feelings of ego, discrimination, caste consciousness, sex, prejudice, degradation of human life and renunciation, etc.

(4) The language that he used was the accepted vehicle of literary expression at that time. The metaphor of the Bani is homely and direct, such as one would experience in the daily course of one’s life.

(5) Each hymn was very carefully numbered so that no one could add or subtract any hymn of any verse.

(6) The poetry of the Bhagats was also selected and edited because people had also started writing poetry under their names.