BANI, Sanskrit van! (meaning sound, voice, music; speech, language, diction; praise, laudation), refers in the specifically Sikh context to the sacred compositions of the Gurus and of the holy saints and sufis as incorporated in the Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Compositions of Guru Gobind Singh comprising the Dasam Granth are also referred to as Bani. For Sikhs, Bani or the compound Gurbani (Guru`s ban!) is the revealed word. Revelation is defined as the way God discloses and communicates Himself to humanity.
There are different views on how he does this. The Hindu belief is that God occasionally becomes incarnate as an avatar and thus communicates Himself through his word and action while living on this earth.For the Muslims the revelation consists in actual words in the form of direct messages conveyed from God through an angel. Gabriel, to the Prophet. Another belief is that God communicates not the form but the content of the words, i.e. knowledge, to man.
A related view is that, as a result of the mystic unity they achieve with the Universal Self, certain individuals under Divine inspiration arrive at truths which they impart to the world. The Gurus did not subscribe to the incarnation theory “The tongue be burnt that says that the Lord ever takes birth” (GG, 1136), nor did they acknowledge the existence of angels or intermediaries between God and man.They were nevertheless conscious of their divine mission and described the knowledge and wisdom contained in their hymns as God given.
“As the Lord`s word comes to me, 0 Lalo, so do I deliver it,” says Guru Nanak (GG, 722). Guru Arjan: “I myself know not what to speak; all I speak is what the Lord commandeth” (GG, 763). It is in this sense that Bani is revelation for the Sikhs. It is for them God`s Word mediated through the Gurus or Word on which the Gurus had put their seal. The Bani echoes the Divine Truth; it is the voice of God “the Lord`s own word,” as said Guru Nanak; or the Formless Lord Himself, as said Guru Amar Das: vahu vahu bani nirankar hai tisujevadu avaru na koi (GG, 515) Hail.
hail, the word of the Guru, Which is the Formless Lord Himself; There is none other, nothing else To be reckoned equal to it. Being Word Divine, Bani is sacred and the object of utmost veneration. That the Bani was reverenced by the Gurus themselves even before it was compiled into the Holy Book is attested by an anecdote in Gurbilas Chhevin Patshahi. While returning from Goindval after the obsequies of his father, Guru Arjan took with him some pothis or books containing the Bani of the first four Gurus. The Sikhs carried the pothis, wrapped in a piece of cloth, in a palanquin on their shoulders.
The Guru and other Sikhs walked along barefoot while the Guru`s horse trailed behind bareback. When the Sikhs suggested that the Guru ride as usual, he replied, “These [pothis] represent the four Gurus, their light. It would be disrespectful [on my part to ride in their presence]. It is but meet that I walk barefoot.” “The Bani is Guru and the Guru is Bani….” sang Guru Ram Das (GG, 982). Guru Nanak, the founder, had himself declared, “sabda, i.e. word or bani, is Guru, the unfathomable spiritual guide; crazed would be the world without the sabda” (GG, 635).
“Sabda Guru enables one to swim across the ocean of existence and to perceive the One as present everywhere” (GG, 944).Thus it is that the Bani of the Guru commands a Sikh`s reverence. The content of the Bani is God`s name, God`s praise and the clue to God realization. God is described both as immanent and transcendent. He is the creator of all things, yet He does not remain apart from His creation.
He responds to the love of His creatures. Hukam or the Divine Law is the fundamental principle of God`s activity. Man`s duty is to seek an understanding of His A ukam and to live his life wholly in accord with it. God is the source of grace (nadar) and it behoves man to make himself worthy of His grace. The Bani, which is Guru in essence, brings this enlightenment to men. It shows the way.
Listening to, reciting and becoming absorbed in Bani engenders merit and helps one to overcome haumai, i.e. finite ego or self love which hinders understanding and realization. In proclaiming the supreme holiness and majesty of God, the Bani has few parallels in literature. It contains one of the most intimate and magnificent expressions of faith in the Transcendent. It is an earnestly given testament about God`s existence and a sterling statement of a deeply experienced vision of Him.
The Bani is all in the spiritual key. It is poetry of pure devotion, love and compassion. It is lyrical rather than philosophical, moral rather than cerebral. It prescribes no social code, yet it is the basis of Sikh practice as well as of the Sikh belief.It is the source of authority, the ultimate guide to the spiritual and moral path pointed by the Gurus. The form of the Bani is as sublime as is its content.
It is a superb body of verse in a variety of metre and rhythm, arranged under thirty-one different musical measures. Besides its ardent lyricism and abounding imagination, it displays a subtle aesthetic sensitivity. The aptness of its image and simile is especially noteworthy. Its musicality is engaging. The language is mainly Punjabi in its simple spoken idiom.
The down to earth, sinewy presence of its vocabulary and the eloquence of its symbolism drawn from everyday life give it a virile tone. The Bani constitutes the spring head of Punjabi literary tradition and the creative energy the latter acquired from it informed its subsequent growth and continues to be a vital influence to this day.
1. Shackle, C., A Guru Nanak G/ossary. London, 1981
2. Kirpal Singh,Janam Sakhi Prampara. Patiala, 1969
3. Kahn Singh, Bhai, Gunnat Martand. Amritsar, 1983