‘Gurbani is the jewel, the treasure of devotion. Singing, hearing and acting upon it, one is enraptured.’ (Sri Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib JI, Ang 376)
Sri Guru Gobind Singh declared to the Sikhs that the spiritual heart and authority of the Sikh Gurus was within the divine writings known as Gurbani. The tenth Guru advised the Sikhs that:
‘My physical body resides within the Khalsa, my soul is in the holy writings.’
The fourth Guru, Sri Gur Ram Das Ji had earlier written of the divine status of Gurbani;
‘Bani is the Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained.’ (Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 982)
Those who doubt any Gurbani such as Raagmala or writings of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji do not believe in the complete sublime divinity of their Guru and are therefore not Sikhs. Sodhi Ram Narain Singh Ji, in his work which was approved by all Sikh leaders in 1914 states that there are four Bania within the Sikh tradition which are revered: Primarily the bani of Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, secondly the Bani of the Tenth King and also the Bani of Bhai Gurdas Ji and Bhai Nand Lal Ji. (Khalsa Dharam Shastar, page 59)
The Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the primal source of worship for Sikhs. However, all writings of the Sikh Gurus are considered divine so the Khalsa reveres all Gurbani. Therefore, within Nihang Battalions and other at other Sikh shrines the writings of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji (namely Dasam Sri Guru Guru Granth Sahib Ji and Sri Sarbloh Parksash Granth) are also placed on a canopy and worshipped. The divine scriptures are often respectfully addressed as Adi Guru Durbar, Dasam Guru Gurbar and Sarbloh Guru Darbar. The term Durbar literally means royal court.
Learning and reading Gurbani
As Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji is the primal (Adi) focus of worship, Nihang Singhs first are trained in the its reading before moving on to other scripture. Santhiya, training in scriptural reading, begins at the moharni which through strenuous practise allows one to perfect all the sounds of the Gurmukhi language. Without learning the moharni it is impossible for one to correctly read Gurbani, therefore students spend weeks and months perfecting the moharni:
‘One can study the Punjabi language for many years but this will not make their Gurbani pronunciation correct. Even with many years of study one will have to first learn moharni without which they will not be able to correctly read Gurbani.’ (Jatheadr Baba Joginder Singh Ji 96 Krori, Oral interview, July 2007)
Gurbani is the central feature of a Gursikhs life around which all other aspects should revolve. Upon immediately waking and before sleeping a Sikh recites Gurbani. The following is the minimum Gurbanis which a Gursikh should recite daily;
Morning: Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib, Svaiyai, Choupai Sahib, Anand sahib.
Evening: Rehras, Kirtan Sohila.
Additionally at encampments of Nihang Singhs the following Gurbani is recited daily:
Morning: Shabad Hazaray Patshahi 5, Shabad Hazaray Patshahi 10, Chandi Di Var, Akaal Ustat, Sukhmani Sahib, Braham Kavich, Uggardanti, Bhagauti Astotar. Chandi Chariter, Shastarnaam Mala, Asa Di Var is sung.
Bhai Daya Singh Ji while describing the traits of an Akali Nihang writes;
‘He should read Akaal Ustat and recite Chandi Di Var from memory.’ (Rehatnama)
There is also some Gurbani which Nihang Singhs recite which are completely unheard of by many Sikhs. These include the Brahm Kavich, Atth Khalsa Mool Mantar and others which are read in Nihang Singh battalions.
The teaching of Gurbani in the Nihang Singh Dal’s is an old age tradition dating back to the time of the tenth Guru. At Sabo Ki Talwandi in the city of Bhatinda stands Gurdwara Damdama Sahib, Guru Ki Kanshi (Guru’s university). Here Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji spent nine months and nine days teaching correct Gurbani Ucharan (pronunciation) and Arth (meanings) to 48 Singhs. Such was the intense spiritual wealth in katha (discourse) that all the Singhs ascended towards heaven at its completion while yet alive. Tradition states that The Guru reached out and brought back Baba Deep Singh and Bhai Mani Singh to earth so that they could pass on their teachings to other Sikhs, both of the great saints passed on their knowledge to many Singhs. Baba Deep Singh in fact went on to become a leader of an army of Nihang Singhs while also teaching and preparing manuscripts.
Baba Nihal Singh (Harianvela) states that;
‘In time as the Khalsa was increasingly persecuted, the Singhs somewhat divided roles, some lived a martial existence whereas others devoted themselves solely to spreading the teachings of Gurbani. The latter group of Singhs in contemporary times has become known as the Damdami Taksal which originated from those Nihang Singhs who were given the responsibility of teaching Gurbani.’ (Audio interview, December 2008)
Jathedar Baba Trilok Singh Ji Khyale Vale, nephew of Sant Baba Thakur Singh Ji who lead Damdami Taksal for more than twenty years, shares a story further illustrating this point;
“ On one occasion Baba Thakur Singh Ji arose and told his companions that he wanted to go and visit the Nihang Singhs. Baba Ji’s companions asked the great saint what is the need to visit the Nihangs? Baba Ji said, because we have all originated from Nihang Singh, even us. The first leader of our Taksal, Baba Deep Singh Ji, was but a Nihang Singh.” (Audio Recording, January 2009)
Jathedar Baba Deep Singh Ji Shaheed – one of the most famous Nihang Singhs in Sikh history who is also recognised as being the first leader of Damdami Taksal.
In the past century Nihang Singhs have taken great efforts to preserve the Gurbani tradition blessed to them by Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji. A leading pioneer of this effort was Brahmgiani Baba Mit Singh Ji who preserved many rare writings of the Sikh Gurus and re-implemented many traditions such as the reading of Dusshera Mahatam Granth on the festival of Dusshera. Baba Mit Singh Ji’s also trained many students in the reading of Gurbani including Jathedar Baba Santa Singh Ji and Jathedar Baba Daya Singh Ji who would go on to lead the Budha Dal and Bidhi Chand Dal respectively. Baba Santa Singh himself trough during his leadership of Budha Dal trained hundreds of students in the reading of Gurbani, keeping alive the legacy of Baba Binod Singh Ji who was the first Jathedar of the Budha Dal and learnt Santhiya from Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
It was at Gurdwara Damdama Sahib Patshahi 6 Raqba, where Baba Mit Singh began his Gurbani education from Jathedar Baba Variyaam Singh Ji. The successors of Baba Variyaam Singh have included the great saints Baba Karam Singh Ji and Baba Lehna Singh who had memorised all of Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji to memory. At present Baba Joginder Singh Ji is responsible for the care of the Gurdwara Sahib. In keeping with the tradition of his predecessors, he has trained many students in the reading of Gurbani. In recent years there have been an increasing number of international students visiting Raqba to learn Gurbani. As a result a taksal (education centre) is currently being constructed in order to accommodate and facilitate those who from India and abroad who wish to learn to recite Gurbani correctly whilst staying amongst the great warrior saints in the Gurus beloved army.
Gurbani as spiritual practise.
Upon learning to recite correctly Gurbani, one should devote time to learning as much Gurbani by heart as possible. It is only because of the rigorous reading of Gurbani and meditation on the Gurus mantars that Nihang Singhs have managed to survive and through centuries of persecution. It is of unparallel importance that a Nihang Singh and indeed every Sikh devote sufficient time the reciting and practising Gurbani. Singh Sahib Jathedar Baba Joginder Singh Ji states;
‘One should spend at least a tenth of their day (2 and half – 3 hours) sitting down and reading Gurbani. Throughout the day recite Gurmantar or Mulmantr and try to enshrine them within their hearts. Forever ask of the Guru that you remember and meditate upon the Timeless Being with each and every breath.’ (Oral Interview, August 2007)
A temporary barrier that many that begin meditating or reading Gurbani occur is an initial inability to concentrate and therefore enjoy their practise. Sant Seva, in the biography of Sant Harnam Singh Rampur Khera Vale, addresses this point;
‘Gurbani serves the purpose of spiritual soap and medicine for the diseased mind. Recitation of Gur-mantar and Gurbani is a must whether we concentrate or not. To clean our mind rapidly, Seva (humble service without material reward) of the congregation is essential. Slowly, after repeated trying, the mind becomes pure. Affection and liking for Gurbani arises in the mind. A taste then develops for uttering Waheguru. These are symptoms of a mind beginning to purify. A mind such as this is attracted to Gurbani and itself appeases the Guru. The purified mind will concentrate on Gurbani and it will enshrine the words of the Lord or naam. This becomes the stage of unity with the Almighty.’ (Se Kinehiya? Page 25)
While all Gurbani is equal in its immeasurable divinity, there are various types of Ras (relished essence) and Phul (fruit-benefit) associated with reciting certain Gurbani. The most common differentiation between Ras is of Shant Ras (peaceful/saintly spirit and Bir Ras (warrior spirit). Whereas the latter is sourced largely within the writings of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji largely embodies Shant Ras. For example, at the conclusion of Sri Sukhmani Sri Guru Arjan Dev precisely states both the Ras and Phul of reading that bani;
‘One, within whose mind it abides, and who listens to it with love that humble person consciously remembers the Lord God. The pains of birth and death are removed. The human body, so difficult to obtain, is instantly redeemed. Spotlessly pure is his reputation, and ambrosial is his speech. The One Name permeates his mind. Sorrow, sickness, fear and doubt depart. He is called a Holy person; his actions are immaculate and pure. His glory becomes the highest of all. O Nanak, by these Glorious Virtues, this is named Sukhmani, Peace of mind. 8.24.’ (Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 296)
Likewise, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji ends the narration Krishanavtar by explicitly stating the purpose of the chapter;
‘I have composed the discourse of the tenth part (Skandh) of Bhagavat in the vernacular; O Lord ! I have no other desire and have only the zeal for the war fought on the basis of righteousness.2’ (Dasam Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 1133)
Sant Giani Gurbachan Singh Bhinderanwale writes that;
‘Sri Sukhmani Sahib Ji is equal to meditating on God with every breath for twenty four hours and Sri Asa Di Var Ji reduces our journey in the transmigration circle of 8.4 million life forms.’ (Gurmat Rehat Maryada, Page 66)
Different Bania invoke different feelings, spiritual states and experiences, and also bare different fruit. Before Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s ascension the Guru’s devoted followers asked how they would attain vision of their great master who replied that they should recite Sri Japji Sahib with devout love, humility and understanding. Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji told the Sikhs that when the recite Jaap Sahib the tenth master will be standing with their hand on the head of whoever is reciting, showering the reader with divine blessing.
The importance and need to recite, or if one cannot read then listen to, Gurbani is paramount. Those who do not should ask the Guru for assistance and begin their practise or reading and listening to Gurbani. Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji states;
‘Offer your most sincere prayers to the True Guru, so that He may unite you with your Best Friend. Meeting your Best Friend, you shall find peace; the Messenger of Death shall take poison and die. I dwell deep within the Name; the Name has come to dwell within my mind. 5. Without the Guru, there is only pitch darkness; without the Shabad, understanding is not obtained. Through the Guru's Teachings, you shall be enlightened; remain absorbed in the Love of the True Lord. Death does not go there; your light shall merge with the Light. 6.’ (Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 55)