The language used is, by and large, Punjabi or Hindi, not difficult to understand.Yet, because of its poetic form and philosophical content and the linguistic peculiarities bequeathed it by a long range of time and space it spanned, the Scriptural text transmitted to the laity required to be annotated and explained. In consequence arose a whole body of exegetical literature;also several schools of interpretation. The starting point is that corpus itself.
Successive Gurus clarified, elaborated and expounded in their own verse the meaning of the compositions they had inherited. The Janam Sakhis contain these interpretations clothed in much hagiographical detail.This is especially so in the case of writers attempting to provide a setting and background to the hymns they are expounding. One prominent example is the pothi by Baba Miharban.
The writings of Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636) are placed by some in the same category. During the eighteenth century and up into the early part of the nineteenth, the task of interpreting and preaching the Holy Writ primarily rested with the Udasi and Nirmala schoolmen. In the worst days of persecution they were left unmolested. They remained in control of Sikh shrines and institutions; also during the time when the Sikhs had established their authority in the Punjab.
All instruction was carried out orally. The only writings of this period were the Rahitnamas which were, strictly speaking, rules of conduct rather than works of exegesis. The first Udasi exegete of this period who left a written record of his scriptural studies was Anandghana, who completed his tika of Japu in 1795, followed by exegeses of several other banis. Anandghana was the first to separate historical account from interpretative comment.
His interpretations are saturated with Upanisadic lore and are densely Vedantic rather than Sikh, and are apparently a conscious reincubation of Hindu ideology in Sikh thinking.Nirmala scholars generally echoed the Udasi trend of interpreting Sikh scriptural texts in the inflated style prescribed by Hindu commentators on Upanisadic and Vedic texts. Bhai Santokh Singh (1788-1843), the most prominent among the Nirmalas, did write his Garabganjani Tika (Tika to humble the garab, i.e. pride, of Anandghana) in criticism of Anandghana`s interpretations in his Japu Tika, but he too was writing from within the Hindu framework and represented a deep Brahmanical influence. Besides tikas, annotation of scriptural writings continued to flourish throughout the nineteenth century in the form of Praydi (glossaries) and Kos (dictionaries), two prominent illustrations being Granth Guru Girdrath Kos (1895) and Praydi Adi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji De (1898).
A new phase of exegetical writing began with the advent of Western learning.It was, in fact, a Westerner scholar, Ernest Trumpp who first took up an end to end English translation of the entire Guru Granth Sahib. But Trumpp`s scorn for traditional interpretations of the faith and his overt antipathy towards it earned him the reproach of the entire Sikh people. Following the publication of Trumpp`s work in 1877, unfinished though it remained.
Raja Bikram Singh, ruler of Faridkot (1842-98) and patron of the Amritsar Khalsa Diwan, commissioned a full scale commentary in Punjabi on Guru Granth Sahib. The first draft prepared by Giani Badan Singh of Sekhvari was ready by 1883.It was then revised by a synod of Sikh scholars representing a wide variety of schools of thought current among the Sikhs, with Mahant Sumer Singh of Patna Sahib as chairman. Other members of the committee were Giani Harbhajan Singh of Amritsar, Sant Singh of Kapurthala state, Jhanda Singh of Gurdwara Nanakiana Sahib, near Sarigrur, Rai Singh of Jarigi Rana, Dhian Singh of Sekhvari, Pandit Hamir Singh Sariskriti, Pandit Balak Ram Udasi Sariskriti and Baba Bakhtavar Singh Giani.
The revision was completed during the time of Raja Bikram Singh, but he did not live long enough to see publication of the work he had sponsored. The printing started during the reign of his successor, Raja Balbir Singh (1869-1906).Three volumes came out during his time and the fourth and final one during the reign of his successor, Maharaja Brijindar Singh (1896-1918). By this time the first edition had already run out.
A large number of the sets had been presented free of cost to gurdwaras and to scholars. The rest were sold at a nominal price. Meanwhile, suggestions for further revisions and for the use of standard Punjabi instead of Braj in the exegesis had been pouring in from various Singh Sabhas and Khalsa Diwans. The Maharaja ordered, in August 1918, the formation of a revision committee and, pending the revision, ordered the publication of a second edition to meet the immediate demand.
However, his untimely death a few months later (22 December 1918) upset the entire plan. The proposed revision never took place, though a second edition did appear in 1924. Maharaja Brijindar Singh`s successor Raja Harindar Singh was averse to the idea of a revision. He used to say that the tika had been commissioned by his ancestors and it must remain in the same form and style in which they had left it.
The original copy of the tika is still preserved in the toshakhana of the late Raja. There have, however, been reprints of the original brought out by the Languages Department (Bhasha Vibhag) Punjab, the first one in the series appearing in 1970.
1. Taran Singh, Gurhani dian Viakhid Pranahan. Patiala, 1980
2. "Introduction" in Faridkot Tika. Patiala, 1970