BHAGAT (BHAKTA) BANI The Sikh Holy Book, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, comprises writings coming from two sources the sayings of the Gurus and those of the Bhagats (Bhaktas). The term Bhagat here broadly covers, besides some of the saints of medieval India whose compositions occur in the Guru Granth Sahib, those outside of the Guru line whose compositions were entered in the holy book by Guru Arjan (1563-1606) who compiled the Granth. All these contributors are in common parlance collectively called Bhagats. Under this rubric bhagat is included Shaikh Farid, the Sufi. 

Sometimes, the Bhatts, i.e. bards, who kept the Gurus company and who recited panegyrics in their honour, Satta and Balvand who sang kirtan or devotional songs in their presence, and Mardana, Guru Nanak`s lifelong Muslim companion who kept him company during his extensive travels, are loosely lumped with them.Strictly speaking, the bhagat contributors to the Guru Granth Sahib are: Kabir, Trilochan, Beni, Ravidas, Namdev, Dhanna, Jaideva, Bhikhan, Sainu, Pipa, Sadhana, Ramanand, Parmanand, Sur Das and Shaikh Farid, the Sufi. These two streams mingle together completely and no distinctions are ever made among the writings emanating from them. They all, the writings of the Gurus as well as those of the Bhagats, constitute one single text. On any point of precept and doctrine both will have equal validity.

Both enjoy equal esteem and reverence. In fact, the notion of “two” does not exist. Both signal one single metaphysical truth. The Sikhs have believed through the centuries that they embody one single moral and spiritual maxim.That they are the product of the same inspiration is also borne out by the way the incorporation of Bhagat Bani into the Sikh writ is comprehended by subsequent Sikh authorities.

Tara Singh Narotam (1822-1891) makes an unnatural deduction. According to his Granth Sri Gurmat Nirnaya Sagar, Guru Arjan composed the entire Bhagat Bani keeping in mind “the thoughts of each individual Bhagat.” This was a way of saying that those writings were like the Gurus` very own. And for that reason no less binding on Sikhs than those by the Gurus.

The author of Gurbilas Patshahi Chhevin had said that the bhaktas had their compositions recorded themselves. They Their souls appeared in person and Bhai Gurdas, who was writing, saw them with his own eyes.This was the account also given by the author of Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth, a very influential text of the mid ninteenth century. This was another way of stressing the identity of the message communicated.

The title Bhagtan kiBani appears in the Guru Granth Sahib for the first time on page 323 to designate the compositions of Kabir, Namdev and Ravidas in Ragu Gauri. Before that Kabir`s hymns in Ragu Siri appear under the title Siri Ragu KabirJi Ka (GG, 91). Likewise, for the verses of Bhagat Trilochan, the title used is Siri Ragu Trilochan Ka (GG, 92) and for those of Beni, Siri Raga Bani Bhagat Beni Jeo Ki (GG, 93). A verse of Ravidas appears at the end of the page.

Generally, throughout the text the compositions of the Bhagats have been credited individually by their names and those of the Gurus individually by the number in their order of succession for instance, Mahala (mahalla o= Guruperson) I will register the writings of the First Guru, Guru Nanak, Mahala II, the writings of the Second Guru, Guru Angad and so on until Mahala V which means the Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan who compiled the Holy Book. The only other Guru whose compositions figure in the Guru Granth Sahib is Guru Tegh Bahadur, Nanak IX. How did this corpus designated Bhagat Bani enter the Holy Book? Bhai Gurdas in his Varan, 1.32, suggests that Guru Nanak during his travels carried under his arm a book, which evidently comprised his own writings.It might have also contained his record of some of the hymns of the saint poets whom he met during his extensive travels across the country or who had preceded him.

According to the PuratanJanam Sakhi he handed over such a manuscript to Guru Arigad as he passed on the spiritual office to him. Two of the collections of hymns or pothis prior to Guru Granth Sahib are still extant. They are in the possession of the descendants of Guru Amar Das, Nanak III. Besides the compositions of the Gurus, these pothis contain compositions of some of the saints as well among them Kabir, Namdev. Ravidas and Bhikhan. 

Guru Arjan had access to these pothis and presumably to some other materials as well accumulating over the years.Among them may well have been some writings of the Bhagats as well. Views differ on whether Guru Arjan included the sayings of the Bhagats exactly as received or whether he used his discretion in choosing his contributors and in bringing their contributions to conform, in general at least, to the tenets of Sikhism. One thing is certain. Bhagats in the Guru Granth Sahib are represented by their hymns, lauding Nirguna Brahm, i.e. God without attributes.

Worshippers of Sarguna Brahm, of His Rama and Krsna incarnations, were excluded. Vaisnava bhaktas such as Chaitanya and Mira Bai are examples. At places in the text, the Guru commented upon, even contradicted, the sayings of the Bhagats and both versions appear in the text.The purpose of such comments was to bring the sayings of the Bhagats in harmony with the Sikh teaching, which was uncompromisingly monotheistic, with a strong belief in a formless deity and which rejected caste and formal ritualism. Guru Arjan had the hymns transcribed with extraordinary exactness.

He arranged the hymns in thirty different ragas or musical patterns. A precise method was followed in setting down the compositions. First came sabdas by the Gurus in the order of their succession. Then came astpadis, chhantsand vars in a set order. The compositions of the Gurus in each raga were followed by those of the Bhagats in the same format.

A very subtle system of numbering the hymns was evolved.Gurmukhi was the script used for the transcription. From among the Bhagats, Kabir`s contribution is the largest. Besides two long compositions, Bavan Akhari and Thitin, 296 of his, hymns in different ragas and 239 slokas are included in the Guru Granth Sahib, whereas Dhanna has only two hymns, one in Raga Asa and the other in Dhanasari; Sainu has only one hymn and there is only one line and a hymn from Sur Das. Kabir (1440-1518), according to a modern Sikh scholar and researcher 1398-1518, was born, near Varanasi, to a poor Muslim couple.

With a deep urge for a life of devotion from the very beginning, Kabir became a major figure in medieval Indian bhakti.Besides loving devotion which is his principal theme, his verses in the Guru Granth Sahib contain a trenchant criticism of caste, idolatry and empty ritualism. The main thrust of the compositions of Farid (1173-1266) is that man, overcoming worldly temptation, remain attached to God, the creator of all. Fear of death and the need to live according to the Islamic code figure in his verse, but special stress is laid on fol lowing the universally accepted humanitarian values. Namdev (1270-1350). a washerman of Maharashtra, has 60 of his hymns recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib in seventeen different ragas.

They represent the work of his later years, for in his younger years he tended more towards idolatry. Ravidas, as we learn from his own verses, belonged to a family of shoemakers, but he enjoyed considerable esteem among the people of Varanasi where he lived.Forty of his hymns figure in the Guru Granth Sahib, in sixteen different ragas. He has dealt in his verses with the themes of the Godhead, Nature, Soul, nam. Guru, transmigration and liberation.

According to him, realization of the divine is possible only through loving devotion, all else being mere pretension. The contribution of remaining eleven Bhagats is numerically very small18 hymns and one line in all. Their hymns, too, generally celebrate unicity and love of God. They reject ritualism and formalism, and lay stress on the remembrance of God`s Name, which does not mean mere mechanical repetition of any attributive name of God, but implies the continuous feeling and realization of His presence at every place and in every being.

References :

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