- Category: Bhai Gurdas and the early Sikh literature
JANAM SAKHI derives its name from the number attached to the manuscript in the catalogue of the India Office Library, London (MS. Panj B40). It consists of a unique collection of sakhis or anecdotes concerning the life of Guru Nanak, and, although it sliares common sources with the Puratan and Adi Sakhian traditions, it constructs a different sakhi sequence and incorporates a substantial block of stories which are to be found in none of the other major traditions. This cluster of anecdotes was evidently drawn from the oral tradition of the compiler`s own area and includes all the principal janam sakhi forms such as narrative anecdote, narrative discourse, didactic discourse, and lieterodox discourse.
Another feature of particular interest and value is the inclusion of fifty-seven illustrations. The manuscript is also distinguished by the unusually clear description which is provided of its origins. Two notes appended to the manuscript (folios 84b, 230b) relate that the Janam Sakhi, commissioned by a patron named Sangu Mall and written in the hand of Daya Ram Abrol and illustrated by Alam Chand, a mason, was completed on Bhadon sudf 3,1790 Bk/ 31 August 1733. The manuscript is said to be a copy of some other now nonextant manuscript which might have originally been written subsequent to Guru Tegh Bahadur`s martyrdom (1675).
This assumption is based on the fact that the manuscript makes no reference to Guru Gobind Singh or to his founding the Khalsa (1699) and historically the latest event to be men tioned is Guru Tegh Bahadur`s martyrdom. The manuscript comprises 231 folios (with five folios numbering 1518 and 23 missing) and has two apocryphal works entitled Madine di Gosti and Makke di Gosti conjointly entered under the title Makke Madine di Gosti after the table of contents which follow the text. Since the entry on Gosti is in a different ink and three more sheets have been added to complete the text of this Gosti, it clearly is a later interpolation.
According to internal evidence, the manuscript may have been recorded in Gujranwala district or near about although there is no clear indication about its provenance. Nothing is known of the manuscript`s history since its completion in AD 1733 till 1907, although there is evidence which possibly indicates that the manuscript or a copy of it, may have been used in preparing Bhai Santokh Singh`s 5n Gur Nanak Prakash. In 1885, Professor Gurmukh Singh of Oriental College, Lahore, referred briefly and cryptically to a "Lahore Janam Sakhi" which had been recorded in 1790 Bk and in 1913 Karam Singh, historian, reported having once seen an illustrated Janam Sakhi bearing the same date "in the possession of a Muslim bookseller of Lahore."
Both reports evidendy refer to the B40 Janam Sakhi which had meanwhile found its way to London. There it was purchased in 1907 for 10 pounds by the India Office Library from its owner, Hafiz `Abd urRahman. At first sight the B40 manuscript appears to follow the Puratan tradition because its first eight sakhis have been drawn from a source which presented its material in the chracteristically Puratan style; the source appears , in fact, to have been the same manuscript as the HaHzabad Janam Sakhi compiler used when recording his Puratan collection.
From Sakhi 9 onwards, however, the B40 compiler chooses selectively from at least five different sources, four of them apparently in manuscript form and the fifth his local oral tradition. In addition to the manuscript which he shared with his Puratan analogue, he also shared a separate manuscript with the Adi Sakhian compiler. A Miharban source provided him with a small cluster near the end of his work and through the manuscript he has scattered six discourses of the heterodox variety.
The narrative structure imposed by its compiler is, for the most part, a rudimentary one. It retains its consistency for as long as he remains with his first source (the first eight sakhfs), but little heed is paid thereafter to systematic order or chronology apart from the introduction of the death sakhi at the very end. The manuscript written in Gurmukhi script, has been edited by Piar Singh and published under the title Janam Sakhi Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji (Amritsar, 1974). An English translation byW.H. McLeod has also been issued as The B40 JanamSakhi (Amritsar, 1979).
1. Piar Sirigh, Janam Sakhi Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Amritsar, 1974
2. Kirpal Singh, Janam Sakhi Prampara. Patiala, 1969
3. McLeod, W.H.. The B40 Janam-Sakhi. Amritsar, 1979