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The word Naam occurs in Gurbani in many forms like ਨਾਮ, ਨਾਮੁ, ਨਾਵ, ਨਾਉ, ਨਾਇ, ਨਾਮੇ, ਨਾਮੋ and ਨਾਮੈ. The basic word is ਨਾਮ. 

The Aunkarr _ to ਨਾਮੁ makes it singular, whereas ਨਾਮ is plural as per Gurbani Viaakaran/grammar. ਨਾਇ, ਨਾਮੇ, ਨਾਮੋ and ਨਾਮੈ make it ‘of’ or ‘by’ Naam.

The word ਨਾਮ means name. It is the identity like one’s role or profession and associated duties. It is also used for qualities/attributes like one who is kind, compassionate, cruel and so on. A good name means fame.

Gurbani uses the plural ਨਾਮ Naam in respect of the Almighty and the creatures/humans with the same meaning – attributes, roles, duties. ਨਾਮ  in respect of the humans is described later in this article.

The plural ਨਾਮ for God 

This is used in respect of the Almighty as Kirtam Naam, i.e. what the Almighty does. They are numerous, thus:

ਤੇਰੇ ਨਾਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ਰੂਪ ਅਨੰਤਾ ਕਹਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਹੀ ਤੇਰੇ ਗੁਣ ਕੇਤੇ ॥੧॥ P 358

Your names are numerous and forms beyond count; it is not possible to count Your virtues/attributes. 

The singular ਨਾਮੁ

The singular ਨਾਮੁ applies in respect of the Almighty only. ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ  means the eternal or inevitable Naam/writ of the Almighty. It is awareness of duties/role given to the soul. It is the ਹੁਕਮ Hukam or divine commands. Guru Nanak says

ਏਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਹੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਦੀਆ ਬੁਝਾਇ ਜੀਉ ॥੫॥ 

The singular Naam is Divine commands; this understanding is imparted by the true guru. P 72

In Mool Mantar 

ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ means 

Invoking the ONE Almighty whose (naam-u) commands/writ is eternal/inevitable.


ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ means 

The Creator, who is fearless (not answerable to anyone), i.e. the highest authority; is without/beyond animus, embodiment of timeless-ness and deathless-ness. Does not take a life form, is Self-existent and known with grace/guidance of the guru.

ਨਾਮ and ਨਾਮੁ

The fifth Guru elaborates on the two aspects of ਨਾਮ and ਨਾਮੁ thus:

ਕਿਰਤਮ ਨਾਮ ਕਥੇ ਤੇਰੇ ਜਿਹਬਾ ॥ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਪਰਾ ਪੂਰਬਲਾ ॥ 

The tongue/humans utter Your Kirtam Naam, i.e. what the Almighty does – these are divine attributes – to be praised. But the eternal Naam, i.e. the cosmic laws/Hukam/writ existed before the universe came into being – this is Hukam/commands to be obeyed.

Naam Japna

This brings us to the issue of Naam Japna. Most Teekas and translations describe Jap or Jaap as muttering or uttering in low voice. This is as per the Sanskrit dictionary and practiced in case of mantras given to the disciples in Hindu faith. Some Sikhs follow this, thinking uttering the word ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ‘Vahiguru’ repeatedly is Naam Japna. 

There are some, who split the word ‘Vahiguru’ saying ‘Vaah’ while breathing in and ‘guru’ while breathing out. There are groups, which hold hours-long sessions just doing that. 

The Creator gave us ਨਾਮੁ Naam divine commands on our role in life and makes accountable. Aasa Di Vaar Paurri 2 says:

ਨਾਨਕ ਜੀਅ ਉਪਾਇ ਕੈ ਲਿਖਿ ਨਾਵੈ ਧਰਮੁ ਬਹਾਲਿਆ ॥ਓਥੈ ਸਚੇ ਹੀ ਸਚਿ ਨਿਬੜੈ ਚੁਣਿ ਵਖਿ ਕਢੇ ਜਜਮਾਲਿਆ ॥

Says Guru Nanak: The Creator wrote/allotted duties of the creatures and appointed the metaphoric judge to evaluate them. There, only those who truthfully conform to Naam, withstand scrutiny, the transgressors are segregated. P 463.

Surely, the Creator did not create the creatures to chant the word ‘Vahiguru’. We have been created to perform our roles in life. Remembering the Creator’s commands is Naam Japna. The fifth Guru says:

ਸਰਬ ਧਰਮ ਮਹਿ ਸ੍ਰੇਸਟ ਧਰਮੁ ॥ਹਰਿ ਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਿ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਕਰਮੁ ॥ 

Of all the religious practices, the most sublime is to remember divine commands and lead a clean life - free of vices. P 266

Jap, Jaap, Japna or Simran all mean keeping in mind what one needs to do. It is like keeping directions for travel in mind. Naam Japna is meant to stick to our role and ultimately unite with the Creator. Gurbani says:

ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਮਾਰਗੁ ਆਖੀਐ ਕਹੁ ਕਿਤੁ ਬਿਧਿ ਜਾਈਐ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਤੇਰਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਹਰਿ ਖਰਚੁ ਲੈ ਜਾਈਐ ॥੧੯॥ 

Question: People talk of the path to the Creator; how do we walk on that path? 

Answer: The way is to live by Your/Divine ਨਾਮੁ commands, o Almighty; conforming to divine commands is the resource to take with us – please keep us conscious of Your commands. 19. P 726.

Gurbani clarifies the meaning of Jaap in many ways. The Slok/prologue preceding Sukhmani Sahib Asttpadee 21 is.

ਸਰਗੁਨ ਨਿਰਗੁਨ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰ ਸੁੰਨ ਸਮਾਧੀ ਆਪਿ ॥  ਆਪਨ ਕੀਆ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਆਪੇ ਹੀ ਫਿਰਿ ਜਾਪਿ ॥੧॥  

The Formless is both subtle and gross – the latter with presence in nature, who IT-self is in motionless focus – on looking after the universe. IT created the universe and does the Jaap, i.e. performs the role to take care of it. P 290

(Note: It is like Japji Paurri 27 says; ਕਰਿ ਕਰਿ ਵੇਖੈ ਕੀਤਾ ਆਪਣਾ ਜਿਵ ਤਿਸ ਦੀ ਵਡਿਆਈ ॥ The Creator creates and looks after the universe, as is IT’s attribute). 

Surely, the Creator does not chant anything.


ਨਿਵਰੇ ਦੂਤ ਦੁਸਟ ਬੈਰਾਈ ਗੁਰ ਪੂਰੇ ਕਾ ਜਪਿਆ ਜਾਪੁ ॥ 

Vices and evil are kept away by remaining conscious Jaap/directions of the perfect guru. P 823

Guru’s Jaap means to obey the guru, not chant the word ‘guru’.

Guru Nanak says,

ਐਸਾ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਜਪਹੁ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ॥ ਹੋਵਹੁ ਚਾਕਰ ਸਾਚੇ ਕੇਰੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ 

Keep the awareness of God’s commands (present in your conscience) in mind, such as to be a servant of, i.e. be obedient to the Eternal. P 728

So Naam Japna in Gurbani means remembering divine commands for compliance.

Background to Chanting

Those who advocate chanting, quote Japji Paurri 32, which says:

ਇਕ ਦੂ ਜੀਭੌ ਲਖ ਹੋਹਿ ਲਖ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਲਖ ਵੀਸ ॥   ਲਖੁ ਲਖੁ ਗੇੜਾ ਆਖੀਅਹਿ ਏਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਗਦੀਸ ॥  ਏਤੁ ਰਾਹਿ ਪਤਿ ਪਵੜੀਆ ਚੜੀਐ ਹੋਇ ਇਕੀਸ ॥

If one’s one tongue become a lakh (one hundred thousand) and the one lakh become twenty lakh; then each utters the one ਨਾਮੁ Naam, i.e. Hukam or divine commands, of the Master of the universe. This is how one becomes one, i.e. unites with, the Almighty. 

It may be noted that here Naam is used as ਨਾਮੁ or writ, i.e. we are to remember to conduct ourselves by divine commands/writ.

People are also misled to chant the word ‘Vahiguru’ based on Bhai Gurdas saying.

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਹੈ ਜਪਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਖੋਈ । 

Vahiguru is the mantra given by the guru; one gives up ego by remembering it. Vaar 13, Paurri 2 

The word ‘Vahiguru’ is an exclamatory expression, meaning ‘o great guru’ embodiment of the Almighty;  one feels humble in light of majesty of the Almighty. P 515

This is the meaning of Vahiguru Japna

Sri Guru Granth Sahib is our ultimate guide with Japji Sahib as the first composition. It teaches us Japna. The first Paurri says 

ਹੁਕਮਿ ਰਜਾਈ ਚਲਣਾ ਨਾਨਕ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਨਾਲਿ ॥੧॥

We have to conduct ourselves by Hukam/divine commands, which come written with us and present in our conscience. 

Guru Nanak elucidates.

ਏਕਾ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਜੇਤੇ ਹੈ ਜੀਅ ॥ ਸੁਰਤਿ ਵਿਹੂਣਾ ਕੋਇ ਨ ਕੀਅ ॥ 

All the creatures that are, are created with one consciousness. None is created without this consciousness – of role in life/obedience to divine commands. P 24

But, people ask how does one become aware of this consciousness? Guru Nanak answers.

ਪ੍ਰਣਵਤਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕੈਸਾ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਆਪੁ ਪਛਾਣੈ ਬੂਝੈ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਪਰਸਾਦਿ ਕਰੇ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਸੋ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਦਰਗਹ ਪਰਵਾਣੁ ॥੪॥੩੦॥

Submits Guru Nanak: Question: How does one become aware?
Answer: One who understands the self knows that.

S/he reflects on it with the guru’s guidance. Such a learned person is approved in divine court.

This accords with Japji Paurri 6:

ਮਤਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਰਤਨ ਜਵਾਹਰ ਮਾਣਿਕ ਜੇ ਇਕ ਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਸਿਖ ਸੁਣੀ ॥

The gems and jewels, i.e. awareness of the valuable divine commands, is present in our mind; one understands if one listens to the guru.

ਗੁਰਾ ਇਕ ਦੇਹਿ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥ ਸਭਨਾ ਜੀਆ ਕਾ ਇਕੁ ਦਾਤਾ ਸੋ ਮੈ ਵਿਸਰਿ ਨ ਜਾਈ ॥੬॥

And the guru imparts this understanding; the One Almighty is the Creator/provider of all creatures; I should never forget commands of that Master.

The message is that we are to drive out influence of temptations and remain conscious of divine commands.

ਨਾਮ Naam in respect of Creatures/Humans

ਜੀਅ ਜਾਤਿ ਰੰਗਾ ਕੇ ਨਾਵ ॥ ਸਭਨਾ ਲਿਖਿਆ ਵੁੜੀ ਕਲਾਮ ॥

There are creatures of various types and hues; the Creator’s metaphoric pen wrote their roles. Japji Paurri 16

Similarly, Japji Paurri 34 says

ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਜੀਅ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਕੇ ਰੰਗ ॥ ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਨਾਮ ਅਨੇਕ ਅਨੰਤ ॥

There are creatures of different types and hues in the world. They have numerous roles

ਕਰਮੀ ਕਰਮੀ ਹੋਇ ਵੀਚਾਰੁ ॥ ਸਚਾ ਆਪਿ ਸਚਾ ਦਰਬਾਰੁ ॥

Everyone’s deeds are considered; the Almighty is just and just is IT’s court.

Gurbani talks of people doing good deeds to earn fame. It uses Naam with prefix ਚੰਗਾ or ਵਡਾ for the humans. Japji Paurri 7 says.

ਚੰਗਾ ਨਾਉ ਰਖਾਇ ਕੈ ਜਸੁ ਕੀਰਤਿ ਜਗਿ ਲੇਇ ॥
One aims to earn good name and be famous  in the world – some do it for display, not compassion.

Again, Guru Nanak mentions big Naam in respect of the humans.

ਜੇ ਕੋ ਨਾਉ ਧਰਾਏ ਵਡਾ ਸਾਦ ਕਰੇ ਮਨਿ ਭਾਣੇ ॥    

If someone gets a high status/authority, s/he starts acting by own will. P 360

In conclusion; we are to praise ਨਾਮ or divine virtues, and obey ਨਾਮੁ. The latter is Naam Japna.

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