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Study of Guru Granth Sahib: Doctrine, Social Content History, Structure and Status by J. S. Grewal

Published in 2009, “A Study of Guru Granth Sahib” by J. S. Grewal presents the authors introduction to the Guru Granth Sahib and a reflection of his own understanding of the Sikh way of life. Many other eminent scholars supported J. S. Grewal in the publication of this work, including Professor Indu Banga, Professor Gurinder Singh Mann and Karamjit Kaur Malhotra. Overall, the work is comprised of seven chapters covering the concept of social awareness, god and liberation in the Guru Granth Sahib, the path set out by Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amar Das, Guru Ram Das and Guru Arjan, the structure of the Guru Granth Sahib, the idea of Guru Granth and Guru Panth as well interpretations of Gurbani.


Following a short preface, the book opens with a relatively detailed glossary, of which Grewal describes as his own understanding of the terms which may sometimes differ from general meanings. This is a useful start point for the reader as it sets an understanding for the terms that are used throughout the book, giving a reference point to these terms.

The glossary is followed by an introduction that focusses more on the previous research conducted in the field of Sikh Studies with regards to the Guru Granth Sahib. Grewal gives reference to early research from European scholars including Ernest Trumpp and Max Arthur Macauliffe, the former of which is infamous for his incorrect interpretation and ‘contemptuous tone’. Grewal also discusses work from Sikh scholars in the early twentieth century including Khazan Singh, Bhagat Lakshman Singh and Giani Badan Singh. He briefly discusses the role played by the likes of Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha and Bhai Vir Singh as well as the work of Professor Teja Singh. Other scholars mentioned include Gopal Singh, Gurbachan Singh Talib, Manmohan Singh who have published translations of the Guru Granth Sahib and Professor Surindar Singh Kohli. This provides a useful background into the previous work conducting in this field and it is recommended that those who are interested read “Recent Debates in Sikh Studies” by J. S. Grewal, where expands on this topic much further.

Chapter 1, “Social Awareness”, looks specifically into the society that surrounded the Gurus and how this is reflected upon in Gurbani. As described by Grewal, this perspective is not restricted to general religious society, but is also extended to the political situation during that era. Grewal discusses how the Guru’s viewed the ruling establishment, the Mughals, citing examples from Gurbani that reflect the nature of the rule. Grewal then leads on to discuss the views of the Brahmanical, Ascetical and Islamic traditions as outlined in the Guru Granth Sahib. Chapter 4, “The Emerging Path”, focusses on the development of the Sikh way of life during the time of the first five Gurus and the ways in which this is set out in Gurbani.

“The verses known as Babur-bani contain among other things a political comment. The army of Babur is called the marriage party of sin; brides are demanded by force; rites of marriage are performed by satan and not by the qazi or the Brahman.” - Chapter I, Social Awareness, Page 47

Following an insight into the structure of the Guru Granth Sahib, Bhagat Bani and the relationship between the Guru Granth Sahib and Guru Panth, Grewal closes with a series of translations of Gurbani. These include Japji Sahib, Asa di Var, Lavan, Sukhmani sahib, and more. All translations are accompanied by a short introductory paragraph, the Gurbani in Gurmukhi script and an english interpretation. The introductory paragraph is particularly useful for a top level overview of the shabad that is being interpreted.

In whole, “A Study of Guru Granth Sahib” by J. S. Grewal is gives an excellent insight into the Sikh philosophy that is projected throughout the Guru Granth Sahib. This book is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to understand more about the ideals and principles communicated through Gurbani and the importance of the Guru Granth Sahib in the Sikh way of life.


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