Dr. Rajinder Pal Singh
Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the eternal living Guru continues to inspire mankind and provide guidance for God realisation and truthful living. It contains the teachings of the Sikh Gurus as well as of Hindu and Muslim saints. Eternal wisdom flows from its teachings which are recited and sung with intense devotion throughout the world. It’s beauty and accuracy is contingent to keeping it pristine and maintaining its pure originality.
A significant number of Sikhs, especially those outside Punjab, are not able to read Gurmukhi. Even for those who are well versed in Punjabi, it may not be easy to decipher the meaning of Gurbani. In the modern age, with the advent of computers and internet, Sri Guru Granth Sahib and its English online translations have found a firm foothold on digital platforms. This has made it a lot easier for those who wish to learn about the message of the Sikh religion but have a language barrier.
The English translations have been mostly contributed by Sikhs residing in the English speaking parts of the western world, especially UK, Canada and USA. A translation Seva (service) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib to English on a digital platform has been done by ‘Sikhi to the Max’ – https://www.sikhitothemax.org/index/sri-guru-granth-sahib.
Different contributors have provided their personal input for the Seva of translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib from Gurumukhi to English in the online versions. With the passage of time many online services have come to the fore. Another popular site for the translation Seva is – https://itunes.apple.com/in/app/sri-guru-granth-sahib-ji/id1357521492?mt=8
I attended a religious function in Glasgow where Keertan (singing of hymns from Sri Guru Granth Sahib) was conducted all night. The experience was simply mesmerising, and more so because on the large digital screens on either side of Sri Guru Granth Sahib they were displaying the English translation of the Shabd being devotionally sung.
What caught my attention was that whenever the words such as ‘Ram, Jagdish, Raghunath, Gobind, Prabh, Jagannath or Har were mentioned in the Gurbani, the default translation for these on ‘Sikhi to the Max’ software was ‘Lord’ which was being displayed on the large screens! In the entire English translation of SGGS, the word Ram and others similar to it were conspicuously missing!
For instance if the following Shabd/Bani are searched, one will find that Ram, Har, Prabh and Gobind are described as ‘Lord’ in all the available online translation services of SGGS:
- Jinke Ram Vase Man Maahe
- Ram Simar Ram Simar
- Har Dhiyavo Ji Sab Dukh Visaaranhara
- Har Aape Thakur Aape Sevak Ji
- Prabh Ju Ki Saran Lag
- Gobind Milan Ki Eh Teri Bariyah – and many more.
Although there are some minor differences in the various versions available online, one thing that is constant is that words such as Ram, Jagdish, Raghunath, Gobind are missing in all of them having been replaced by the word Lord. Why is it so? We need not even do research for this point since common sense reveals the absurdity of such translations. This is not what the Gurus wrote!
If the Guru mentioned ‘Ram Simar, Ram Simar’, it should have been translated as ‘Recite Ram, Recite Ram’, but instead this has been translated as ‘Recite the name of the Lord’. If the instructions is, ‘Sada Bhajo Jagdish,’ it is changed to ‘always worship the Lord?’ Are we saying that Jagdish is not Lord? It does not make sense. When the eternal Shabd Guru guides us to recite Ram, no Sikh has any authority to distort the same.
Interestingly, the mention of Allah in Sri Guru Granth Sahib has not been changed to Lord by the translators. For instance: ‘Awwal Allah Noor Upaaya’ has been appropriately left unchanged as, ‘First Allah created the Light.’ Thankfully, the names of the Gurus in the Ardas have not been translated into Lord.
It is unclear whether this actually happened due to software issues where the generic English term ‘Lord’ has been used simply for ease and is thus a genuine inadvertent error, or is it a deliberate attempt to anglicise the recitation of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. One can only say that it would be pathetic for the translator to be ignorant of this issue of inadvertent distortions.
Possibly this is the outcome of some fear among Sikhs residing in western nations of getting sucked and diluted into Hindu mainstream due to the commonality that the words generate. Whatever the reasons, there is no ground to justify changing of Gurbani recited by our revered Gurus.
Undoubtedly, Sikh religion is a distinct and pure concept with no malicious bone in its structure, and this graciousness should extend in not severing its bond entirely from the Hindu philosophy. In addition, the distortion of Gurbani by changing the terminology of the Shabd is against the principles of Sikhism as Shabd is our eternal Guru. Who are we to change the eternal philosophy that our Gurus have created for us?
Perhaps there is some misconception regarding the terminology of Ram, and some hesitation among some Sikhs to accept the name of Ram for regular recitation. Most Sikhs perhaps feel that the term Ram used is same as Sri Ram Chandra, son of Raja Dashrath. In Hindu thought, however, Ram is the ancient unknown unborn infinity described in the Vedas and Puranas whose existence was already known to ancient sages such as Sapta Rishi’s much before Sri Ram was born.
Guru Gobind Singh is said to have restored the ancient existence of Ram as a name symbolic of Bhagwan, Waheguru, Allah or God in some of his interactions with scholars. By eliminating Ram from the Gurbani translations, a great disservice is being done to the Guru Sahibaan and the veracity of their message.
The end result of this change is that charlatans and cheats in Punjab are staging fake miracles and dramas to coerce and convert gullible Sikhs into the fold of Christianity by using the term Lord where ever Ram and other words describing the divine are used in Sri Guru Granth Sahib. This incorrect use of terminology is making the job of conversion easier for the fake preachers while we are damaging our legacy by distortion of our sacred teachings.
Such distortion of terminology and crude oversimplification would also distance the youth in India and overseas from the real message of the Sikh religion by advancing a new brand which is miles away from truth and detached from reality. The youth would focus on the English translations and imbibe the terminology of the translator rather than the verbatim message of the revered Shabd Guru.
Shabd Guru is perfect, and beyond any doubt. We cannot and should not change any terminology based on insecurities That leads to an urge to show ourselves as different, and to artificially dismember ourselves from our deeply rooted heritage and origin. The challenges of safeguarding the Sikh religion need not be accompanied by the dark grey clouds of fear and disproportionate reprimand by severing our bonds with Hinduism in entirety.
There are two ways of getting fooled, one is to believe what is not true, and the other is to refuse to believe what is true. As Ayn Rand rightly said- we can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality. The actual message and etymology of eternal Guru is required to be preserved and defended against individuals and software’s who have floated generic terminologies. Whatever the reasons personal interpretations or software errors to tamper with the actual terminology used by Guru Sahibaan is simply not acceptable.