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Guru Gobind Singh played a crucial role in enhancing the manuscript tradition, ensuring the enduring significance of Sikh scriptures like the Granths. 

 

In the time of the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, came some big changes about how people thought about religious writings. This included how Sikhs understood their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. But it also involved being open to learning about other religions.The royal courts of Anandpur and Paonta were grounds where poets and scribes thrived in their respective fields.

 

Early Life 

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, was born in Patna, Bihar, in 1666. He received a diverse education, learning various arts and languages such as Punjabi, Braj Bhasha, Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic. This early exposure to languages empowered him to share his knowledge with his Sikhs and the Khalsa.

Inheriting a court of poets from his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh expanded upon this tradition. He established courtly arenas, notably at Anandpur and Paonta Sahib, where he served as the Tenth Guru. These centers attracted poets, scribes, artisans, and musicians, fostering a creative environment. While some works were created in Punjab and its surroundings, others took shape at Hazur Sahib in Nanded. Many people initially visited the Guru but found themselves drawn to stay in these  arenas.

Some writers had begun creating literature for the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. However, fearing forced conversions to Islam, they sought refuge in the Guru's Durbar. The literature produced during that time went beyond the boundaries of various religions, including translations of both Hindu and Muslim religious texts. Additionally, it explored diverse themes ranging from governance to romantic poetry.The Guru's court became a sanctuary where diverse literary traditions converged,reflecting the many cultures and traditions that existed at that time in history.

 

The Tenth Guru and the Sikh tradition

Guru Gobind Singh elevated the manuscript tradition by safeguarding the sanctity and significance of the Sikh scriptures, ensuring their relevance and importance.His efforts led to the finalization of the Guru Granth Sahib, a pivotal task in Sikh history. Scribes not only transcribed the Guru Granth Sahib but also worked on his compositions, which culminated in the Dasam Patshah Ka Granth, or Granth of the Tenth King. Notably, devoted followers like Bhai Mani Singh and Baba Deep Singh are credited with manuscripts of both Granths. Scribes such as Bhai Hardas were commissioned to create manuscript copies of Sikh Scriptures. During the time of the Tenth Guru, another sacred text called the Sri Sarbloh Granth (Granth of all-steel) was crafted, with tradition linking its creation to Guru Gobind Singh.

Early Sikh manuscript tradition shows manuscripts were created bearing Mughal influence. This started to change during the Durbars of the Tenth Guru as many poets and scribes from different religious persuasions brought their own style to the court.

 

The poets of the Durbar

To identify the poets of the Durbar, we examine Sikh literature and manuscripts linked to them. Among these, the Sri Gursobha Granth (Praise of the Guru) stands out, dated back to 1701 and credited to Kavi Sainapat. Hailing from Amritsar, Sainapat delved deep into Sikh traditions, depicting the battle tactics and wars of the Tenth Guru. His work echoes the essence of the Bachitra Natak (Cosmic Drama) by Guru Gobind Singh, illustrating the ongoing evolution of the Guru's poetic style through his poets' contributions.

 

 Das Gur Katha

The Das Gur Katha, authored around 1700 by Kavi Kankan, remains relatively obscure in scholarly circles until its recent discovery in Lahore. While it's uncertain if the original manuscript still exists, a copy is housed at Khalsa College in Amritsar. The language of the text blends Braj Bhasha and Punjabi, offering a concise history of the Ten Gurus from Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh. Kavi Kankan discusses the succession of the Gurus and vividly portrays Guru Hargobind's battles, along with introducing the concept of Miri-Piri. The manuscript also touches upon the creation of the Khalsa and includes references to the Bani of the Tenth Guru, along with a rare Rahitnama, detailing the code of conduct.

Bhai Nand Lal's story intertwines intriguingly with the Tenth Guru. He served as a poet in Emperor Aurangzeb's retinue but left the court to avoid converting to Islam. Welcomed warmly by the Guru, he became revered in Sikh tradition as the Poet Laureate of the Tenth Guru. Composing many of his works in Persian, they have earned recognition for recitation in Gurdwaras. Among his notable works is a Rahitnama, initially known as Tankhanama and recently renamed Nashitnama, found in an early eighteenth-century manuscript. This manual of instructions holds significance within the Sikh tradition.

 

About Nashitnama

The Nashitnama is a dialogue between Guru Gobind Singh and Bhai Nand Lal, where they discuss the conduct for Sikhs to follow. It is found in the MS440 manuscript, which dates back to around 1718-1719. However, this manuscript isn't the original. We can see this because the Jaap Sahib part ends abruptly, and the Nashitnama begins without its usual invocations. So, MS440 is a copy of an older text, likely from the time of the Tenth Guru.

In addition to the Nashitnama, there are other important texts in Sikh tradition. One is the Prem Sumarag Granth, meaning "Good Path to Love," written by an unknown author. Another is Parchian Patishai Dasvin Ki, written by Seva Das Udasi, which introduces the Tenth Guru. There are also Janamsakhis, which are stories about the birth of Guru Nanak, considered sacred in Sikhism.

Over time, the number of Durbari poets has decreased to fifty-two, but if we consider old manuscripts and stories, it's actually over a hundred and twenty-five. Many poems have the poet's name written in them. After finishing their poems, poets would present them to the Guru and were generously rewarded. These poems often praise Guru Gobind Singh, a common theme among poets like Ani Rai, Mangal Rai, Chand, Brind, and Kuvresh. Some poets start by praising Gods and Goddesses, while the Tenth Guru mainly praises Akal Purakh. An example can be observed in the references to Sri Ganesh found in certain translations by the poet, such as Adhiyatam Prakash (The Dawn of Spiritual Knowledge) by Kavi Sukhdev.

The Durbar also translated parts of the epic Mahabharata. A manuscript from 1669 by Kavi Tahkan of Jalapur made its way to the Tenth Guru's court. It's unclear if the Guru met Tahkan, but his work was recognized in the Durbar as a Gurmukhi translation by the scribe Balgovind Fateh Chand. Tahkan's work, known as Asvamedha Parva, focuses on the horse sacrifice carried out by Yudhisthira, the victorious Pandava leader.

 

Other works 

 

The Guru and poets together created and compiled a book called the Vidiya Sagar Granth (The Book of the Ocean of Knowledge). In Sikh literature, works like "Bansavlinama Dasan Patshahian Ka" by Keshar Singh Chibbar (finished in 1769 A.D.) and "Mahima Parkash" by Sarup Das Bhalla (completed in 1776 A.D.) refer to this collection of poetry. Tradition says the manuscript was incredibly heavy, weighing over 250 kilograms. During the evacuation of Anandpur Sahib in 1704, during a battle with the Mughals, it was believed that this manuscript was lost in the Sirsa River. However, recent research suggests that some parts of it survived and can be found in private collections and certain libraries in Punjab.

The extensive legacy of the Durbar of Guru Gobind Singh deserves more exploration. It not only enriches Sikh culture but also offers insights into the diverse literature of India.

 

*Based on an article by Gurinder Singh Mann, published in Sikh Scholar on 1st May 2013

 

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