The bani of ‘Patti Likhi’ in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), is the first lesson imparted by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, using the letters of Alphabet to convey their spiritual significance. The word “Patti” is for a wooden flat tablet, which was used for writing. Patti is coated with yellow clay paste and then dried in the sun before it can be used. Next with a sharpened reed pen the alphabet is written over it. It can be washed and recoated and used again. ‘Likhi’ symbolizes that Guru Ji wrote it.
As per Puratan Janam Sakhi, when Guru Nanak Dev Ji was 7, his father Mehta Kalu Ji took him to Pandha (teacher) named Gopal for getting formal education. Pandha wrote the 35 letters of the alphabet known as Painti on a wooden tablet for Guru Ji to master. This school is at a very short distance from Gurudwara Janam Asthan in Nankana Sahib, now in Pakistan, where Guru Ji was born.
One day, Guru Ji asked Pandha to explain the meaning of the letters. Pandha was feeling helpless and said that letters in themselves don’t have a meaning but when letters are employed to make words they convey meaning. Guru Ji returned back to his place and sat in a corner away from rest of the students deeply engrossed in writing and humming while writing. Whole day passed and Guru Ji had not shown his work to Pandha. Before the end of class, teacher called Guru Ji and asked him to show his work. Guru Ji brought 3 Pattis and handed over first one to Pandha, while holding the remaining 2 in his hands. Gopal was stunned to see acrostics – praises of God using all the letters of Alphabet. Gopal was awestruck, still he asked Guru Ji why he does not learn what his father wants him to learn. He reminded Guru Ji that he will be inheriting from his father the Patwari job with property accounts of the village and he will be managing those. Guru Nanak Dev Ji replied, “That knowledge will not in any way help you in obtaining liberation“. The teacher was very much astonished at the words of the young child. Pandha asked him, “Nanak, tell me something how can I attain salvation“. Then Guru Ji gave his reply as:
“ਬਾਬਾ ਏਹੁ ਲੇਖਾ ਲਿਖਿ ਜਾਣੁ ॥ਜਿਥੈ ਲੇਖਾ ਮੰਗੀਐ ਤਿਥੈ ਹੋਇ ਸਚਾ ਨੀਸਾਣੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥”
“Baabaa eh lekhaa likh jaan. Jithai lekhaa ma(n)geeaai tithai hoi sachaa neesaan. 1. Rahaau.” (SGGS, 16)
Translation: O Baba, write such an account, that when the same is asked for, it will bring the Mark of Truth. ||1||Pause||
Guru Ji further elaborated his thoughts in a complete discourse, but let us come back to the subject of Patti. Pandha was very impressed as he saw in the child Nanak, making of a great man. He felt that he did not have anything more to offer in terms of education, so recommended to Guru Ji’s father that Nanak should be put under charge of Pandit Brij Nath, to learn Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures.
‘Patti Likhi’ is a complete acrostic discourse on each letter of the 35 letters of alphabet. The essence of the shabad is in the Rahao line, so let us first see what Guru Ji is trying to convey. Guru Ji says:
ਮਨ ਕਾਹੇ ਭੂਲੇ ਮੂੜ ਮਨਾ ॥ ਜਬ ਲੇਖਾ ਦੇਵਹਿ ਬੀਰਾ ਤਉ ਪੜਿਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Translation:O mind, why (do you) forget Him? You foolish mind! O brother, when you have to render your account (of your life’s actions), and only when outstanding balance due is cleared, and then shall you be judged wise. ||1||Pause||
Commentary: Guru Ji says that mind is ignorant, transform it to become wise. So, when your life account balance is cleared you will be judged wise. The word used by Guru Ji to counsel mind is ‘brother’, which depicts the closeness. That process of transformation is initiated through introspection. The introspection can take place with self-talk alone, there the process of discerning right vs wrong will be initiated. The progress on the process will completely purge wrong thoughts, and actions from mind. Eventually one will start having direct conversation with God. In order to become wise ‘ਪੜਿਆ’ the prescribed path by Guru Ji is a 3 step process:
- Listening to God’s word – ਸੁਣਿਐ
- Have full faith in them – ਮੰਨੈ
- Incorporate them in life – ਕਮਾਈਐ
Thus by listening to Guru’s word, having faith in them and incorporating them in life lovingly, the inner being gets wise.
Now let us start with the acrostics of first four letters:
ਸ (Sassa): ਸਸੈ ਸੋਇ ਸ੍ਰਿਸਟਿ ਜਿਨਿ ਸਾਜੀ ਸਭਨਾ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਏਕੁ ਭਇਆ ॥ ਸੇਵਤ ਰਹੇ ਚਿਤੁ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ ਕਾ ਲਾਗਾ ਆਇਆ ਤਿਨ੍ਹ੍ ਕਾ ਸਫਲੁ ਭਇਆ ॥੧॥
Translation: The Lord, who created the world, is sole Master of all. Those, who serve (Lord) by remaining conscious of Him in life, blessed is their birth and successful is their coming into the world. ||1||
Commentary: Guru Ji is sharing the significance of knowing first about the Universe and its Creator. Those who know that, their birth and life will be successful.
ੲ (Eevree): ਈਵੜੀ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਹੈ ਦਾਤਾ ਆਪੇ ਸਚਾ ਸੋਈ ॥ ਏਨਾ ਅਖਰਾ ਮਹਿ ਜੋ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਤਿਸੁ ਸਿਰਿ ਲੇਖੁ ਨ ਹੋਈ ॥੨॥
Translation: The Primal Lord is the Giver (to all); He alone is true (as He is eternal and everything in the creation is perishable). There is no outstanding balance due left from that Gurmukh, who understands the Lord through these letters. ||2||
Commentary: Guru Ji says that the eternal God alone is the giver to all. Those who understand this clearly they stay focused, thus achieve success in life by taking care of outstanding balance dues through their actions in life. They have understood that letters in themselves do convey divine essence. Although the conventional reality is that a word made with multiple letters only has meaning while the individual letters don’t have any.
ੳ (Ooraa): ਊੜੈ ਉਪਮਾ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਕੀਜੈ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ॥ ਸੇਵਾ ਕਰਹਿ ਸੇਈ ਫਲੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਜਿਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੀ ਸਚੁ ਕਮਾਇਆ ॥੩॥
Translation: (With the letter Ooraa Guru Ji is reminding us to) Sing the Praises of the One whose limit cannot be found. Those who serve Him (in meditation) alone obtain the fruits (of achieving purpose of life) by becoming truthful. ||3||
Commentary: Guru Ji says God’s virtues are unlimited. We can get consumed in our efforts to explore the limits and yet fail. The only purpose of human existence is to serve Him through remembrance and merge in Him, thus becoming truthful. So the seeker embarks on a lifelong quest to experience awe in everything created by Creator.
ਙ (Nganga): ਙੰਙੈ ਙਿਆਨੁ ਬੂਝੈ ਜੇ ਕੋਈ ਪੜਿਆ ਪੰਡਿਤੁ ਸੋਈ ॥ ਸਰਬ ਜੀਆ ਮਹਿ ਏਕੋ ਜਾਣੈ ਤਾ ਹਉਮੈ ਕਹੈ ਨ ਕੋਈ ॥੪॥
Translation: One who understands the spiritual wisdom becomes a Pundit, a learned scholar. One who recognizes the One Lord amongst all beings does not talk in ego. ||4||
Commentary: Guru Ji says, become wise by understanding spiritual wisdom through listening, having faith in them, internalizing and living them. Once that is achieved one will see God in every being and pride will be gone. But we have not understood this explicitly as a result we have conflict with our own family members, society, nations etc. But if this was clearly understood and lived in life, then we would have fixed relationship with all, have comradery with everyone, in the process developed a relationship with God.
The journey on Guru’s path is a journey from carelessness (ਲਾਪਰਵਾਹ) to becoming worry-free (ਵੇਪਰਵਾਹ) in life. Carelessness results in reckless life as if walking asleep through life, stumbling and getting injured. While worry-free state is a consequence of accomplishing what is to be achieved in life. The essential message is that the entire world is God’s Creation, and it runs as per His Will. We are just like pawns in the grand scheme and we should always remember Him to become worry-free. Therefore in order to develop relationships with God, first fix your relationship with others.
Normally the teaching of the letters to the beginner is usually done by their associating letters with commonly known words as ‘A’ for apple. But these alphabet letters are unique, as they are part of a sacred language and they are the building blocks of all the teachings of the Gurus. The letters have transcended their conventional realm of merely conveying a particular sound, to remind us of the Creator and transporting us in the realm of sacred sound. Reading the bani ‘Patti Likhi’ today makes us realize that Guru Ji was a born poet, with true spiritual wisdom and one with God.
This bani was written by Guru Nanak Dev Ji as a child so we can be sure regarding the preexistence of the script. Many times it is believed that Gurmukhi script came after Guru Nanak Dev Ji. But Guru Ji himself is using this script for recording all his own bani along with other Bhagat Banis that Guru Ji collected during his udassis. Although Gurmukhi script as we know it today does have a slightly different arrangement of letters compared to arrangement in this bani, which establishes that the rearrangement is a later development during Guru Angad Dev Ji’s time.
Guru Arjan Dev Ji salutes the spiritual wisdom of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, embodiment of Divine Light in these words:
“ਗੁਰੁ ਨਾਨਕੁ ਜਿਨ ਸੁਣਿਆ ਪੇਖਿਆ ਸੇ ਫਿਰਿ ਗਰਭਾਸਿ ਨ ਪਰਿਆ ਰੇ ॥੪॥੨॥੧੩॥”
“Gur Nanak jin suniaa pekhiaa se fir garabhaas na pariaa re. 4.2.13.”(SGGS, 612)
Translation: Those who have heard, and seen Guru Nanak, they do not descend into the womb of reincarnation again.
Today our tragedy is that we are getting away from this language as well as the script by patronizing Hindi and English in our efforts to become part of mainstream. In the process we are depriving ourselves from Gurbani. Already the Hindus and Muslims Punjabis have distanced themselves from the language and the script by adopting Hindi and Urdu. Now as the remaining custodians, who valued it as their divine and spiritual heritage, are becoming the cause of its demise. Our actions of adopting and patronizing other languages at the cost of our mother tongue will be its death knell. Let this Guru given gift not meet the same fate as the extinct language of Sanskrit or Latin. Let us all pray that Guru Ji may grant us his grace, so that we learn, nurture and preserve our Guru given treasure. Guru Ji please bless us so that we continue to read, write and recite using it. Bless us so that we:
“ਲਿਖੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਾਲਾਹ ਲਿਖੁ ਲਿਖੁ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਰਾਵਾਰੁ ॥੧॥”
“Likh naam saalaeh likh likh a(n)t na paaraavaar. 1.” (SGGS, 16)
Translation: Write the Praises of the Naam, the Name of the Lord; write it over and over again, that He has no end or limitation. ||1||
- Singh, Prof. Sahib. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Darpan. Volume 3. Raj Publishers.
- Singh, Bhai Vir. Santhiya Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Volume 6. Bhi Vir Singh Sahit Sadan.
- Singh, Bhai Vir. Sri Guru Nanak Chamatkar. Poorbarath (Volume 1). Bhi Vir Singh Sahit Sadan
- Singh, Satbir. Baliyo Chirag. Life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. New Book Co.
- Surma, M. S. Guru Nanak Apostle of Love. B. Jawahar Singh Kirpal Singh & Co.
Bhupinder ‘Bo’ Singh, Houston. Born in Bhamo, Myanmar, he now lives in Houston, US, where he runs a manufacturing company formed with his son. A mechanical engineer by training, he has authored a number of books, including Connecting with the Master – A collection of essays on topics related to Sikhism (2006) and In Bully’s Eyes – An Illustrated Children’s book on Bullying (2019).
Daulat Khan Lodi (Asia Samachar, 5 Nov 2020)