Guru Granth Is Global – Restrictions Are Antithesis

There are reports that awful restrictions are being imposed on the transportation of the printed volume of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) to homes and the gurdwaras in the West. This seems to be counter to the Guru’s mission of Gurmat among the seekers everywhere in the world. The Sikh scripture itself, Sikh history and Sikh traditions all advocate the widespread availability of the SGGS. - HARBANS LAL

Guru Granth Sahib – Photo: Jasleen Kaur

By Harbans Lal | OPINION |

ABSTRACT: There are reports that awful restrictions are being imposed on the
transportation of the printed volume of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) to homes and
the gurdwaras in the West. This seems to be counter to the Guru’s mission of Gurmat among the seekers everywhere in the world. The Sikh scripture itself, Sikh history and Sikh traditions all advocate the widespread availability of the SGGS.


As Sikhs, we possess an inherent privilege of being continuously in touch and in communication with Gurbani. This requires us to make the Shabd Guru available to every Sikh. In today’s technological environment, SGGS availability through the printed format and the electronic media are considered most suitable. In developing countries, it may be just printed formats or even handwritten texts. At the time of Guru Nanak, Sikhs kept the Guru-Shabd in their heart, especially where the printed format was often not available.

I also need to say here that our Gurus never authorized any intermediary or clergy to transmit the Guru Shabd. In fact, our Gurus did not even advocate the existance of the clergy class within the Sikh Panth.


One fundamental objection that our Gurus faced from the then existing clergy (Pundits or leaders of the Brahmanical tradition) had to do with the language and mode of propagation that our Gurus employed to freely spread Gurmat messages among people. The position of the clergy was that our Gurus use Sanskrit to compose Gurbani. It was also their position that that the clergy be put in charge of propagating Gurbani and that it should not be distributed unrestricted.

The language of Gurbani that is contained within the SGGS is proof that the Gurus rejected the demands of the clergy. Our Gurus also rejected the notion that the clergy impart the Guru’s teachings. Access to the Guru’s teachings was granted to everyone, in whichever way was convenient to the seekers. Each and everyone, irrespective of their age, gender, education, financial position, or even religion is given free access to the Guru’s teachings.


Our Shabd Guru asks us to make free availability of Guru Shabd as the Gur-Shabd-Langar. The langar of meals takes care of the needs of the human body. And the the langar of the Guru’s teachings nourished the human mind.

ਲੰਗਰੁ ਚਲੈ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਿਦ ਹਿਰ ਤੋਿਟ ਨ ਆਵੀ ਖਟੀਐ ॥

Langar chalai gur sabadi hari toti n aavee khateeai: SGGS, p. 967

The langar of the Guru’s Shabad (Naam or Giaan Langar) is open for ceaseless distribution, and its supplies never run short. Our Gurus urged us to distribute the Shabd and its teachings freely and ceaselessly to all seekers without any discrimination of gender, race, nationality, status, education, or ethnicity.


Gurbani critiques those who hide their Guru Shabd behind restrictions.

ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਪੇ ਆਪਣਾ ਸੁ ਭਲਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਪੰਚਹੁ ਓਿਨ ਲਾਹਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਸਭੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥ SGGS, p.304.
O seekers, restricting the Guru from others is not a virtuous deed. The benefit that seekers could take from the Guru’s teachings is denied in so doing.

Despite such a critique, our youth, and other members of Sikh congregations in the western world experience untold difficulties in obtaining the bound volumes of the SGGS. Even though everyone with computers and cell-phones has full excess to electronic versions of the SGGS, many Sikhs wish to have the saroop of the SGGS in their homes.

Many faithful Sikhs describe awful hurdles when they go to India and go to Darbar Sahib to seek a saroop of the SGGS. No one knows the reason for such imposition of restrictions on the SGGS outside of the Darbar Sahib precinct to Sikh diasporas abroad. These hurdles impose a magnitude of anguish that Sikhs are forced to endure.

Sardar Phulel Singh, an ex-official of Takht Patna Sahab, used to bring truckloads of SGGS volumes to distribute in North America. When he passed away, his son needed the sacred volume for his new home. So, he flew to India to get one. However, he returned empty handed – expressing dismay over the reception he received. Additionally, those Sikhs abroad who facilitate the access to the Shabd Guru are harassed and threatened.

There is no question that utmost respect is appropriate during transporting the SGGS. The issue is that the restrictions that are out in place diminish the ability of Sikhs worldwide to develop and strengthen a relationship with the SGGS. Hence this essay against the practice of restricting open access to the Jagat Guru.

Has Brahmanism entered our religious practices? Let me illustrate my reasons for asking this question.


In 2000, world religious leaders gathered in the United States to celebrate the Millennium year. I was personally involved with the events held at the United Nations campus in New York and at the World Center for Thanksgiving in Dallas, Texas. Meeting and mingling with world religious leaders gave me, among other things, a real appreciation and understanding of how diverse the celebration of religiosity among world’s religions was. One observation is relevant to this essay.

Some denominations of Hinduism sent lower-level leadership while others completely shunned the event. We were told that their top religious leadership was forbidden to cross waters over the continents. On further exploration I found that travelling overseas was forbidden in those sects on the religious grounds. There is a belief in Brahmin mythology that crossing an ocean is a religious sacrilege. Both the Manu Smriti and the Baudhayana Dharma Sutra specifically advise against sea travels. Some who have incurred religious wrath in recent times for crossing the seas are notables like Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda, and Ramanujan, though they totally disregarded any religious judgment against them.

It is noteworthy that in the 17th and 18th centuries, the English suffered in their attempts to get Hindu labor across to Africa and West Indies due to this reason. The crossing of the seas was termed a crossing over the dark waters or Kala Pani. The British finally took large vessels full of the water from river Ganges on board to keep these men contended.

A Brahmin explained the taboo to me as follows: One cannot perform his daily puja, the three-time sandyavandans because the sun and moon were “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Moreover, if one goes out, he will have to compromise on those religious practices, ‘touch’ many unclean people and eat food prepared by mlecchas (non-Aryan or non-Vedic follower). Another reason given was that India was a Punyabhoomi (Holy land) while and the rest of the world was Karmabhoomi (Land of duty). Furthermore, such a departure from this land entailed the end of the reincarnation cycle, as the traveler was cut off from the regenerating waters of the Ganges (thus the English solution of carrying water from the Ganges on ships).

Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri, a noted poet who served as a priest at the Sreevallabha Temple, was not allowed to enter the temple after he returned from an overseas trip to London. The temple authorities had him undergo a thorough cleansing, penance, and punaravrodha (reinstallation) before he would be allowed in the temple again. Namboothiri was asked to purify himself by reciting the Gayatri Mantra 1008 times.

It is heartening that Hindus – with the exception of a few sects – have begin to reform – rejecting the above-described restrictions on overseas travel. They consider it a taboo of the past and an outdated belief. It appears that some of our Sikh clergy want us to join those sects.

I am left wondering if the above-described Hindu taboo has started seeping into our customs to freshly invent restrictions on travels of our eternal Guru?

We need to know that our Shabd Guru had guaranteed us its presence wherever a Sikh would reside. Bhai Gurdas described the whole schema of Guru Arjan in creating the volume of SGGS in Vaar 41, Paurri 21, as below.

ਗੁਰੂ ਅਰਜਨ ਪੰਚਮ ਠਹਰਾਇਓ॥ ਿਜਨ ਸਬਦ ਸੁਧਾਰ ਗਰਥੰ ਬਣਾਇਓ॥ ਗੰ�ਥ ਬਣਾਇ ਉਚਾਰ ਸੁਨਾਇਓ॥ਤਬ ਸਰਬ ਜਗਤ ਮੈ ਪਾਠ ਰਚਾਇਓ॥

The Fifth Guru, Guru Arjan, collected and edited the sacred hymns to compile the Granth. Then he recited it to the congregation and prescribed its recitations for the whole world.

The scholars in the Guru Arjan’s congregation said as follows:

ਉਗਵਣਹੁ ਤੈ ਆਥਵਣਹੁ ਚਹੁ ਚਕੀ ਕੀਅਨੁ ਲੋ ਆ ॥ Balvand and Sata (SGGS, p. 968)
Your teachings (Guru Shabd) is the source of light which may shine from the East and the West and spread to enlighten all continents.


Little did we know that our expectations of the Guru’s presence travelling all over the world would be sabotaged by our own clergy in our own lifetime, and that the Brahmanwad as described above in the case of Hinduism would seize us Sikhs, too. And, to our dismay, this is happening at a time when even the orthodox Hindu organizations are themselves seriously considering to be backing away from this outdated custom and thinking.

For the information of readers, I am using the terms Brahmanism or Brahmanwad as a generic term, meaning the clergy-imposed religiosity, experienced virtually in every religion. So, the Brahman as a generic term includes pundits, granthis, mullahs, rabbis, and others who claim a special authority over management of their religions. Unfortunately, Brahmanwad engulfs every religion, sometime after the founder’s demise and it is highly disturbing to see its dominance in modern times.


Some priestly heads of important religious organizations in Punjab and in Delhi took a friend who was seeking the SGGS around the bushes for several days until the seeker lost patience and gave up. The clergy demands included hiring of five initiated Sikhs to ceremonially carrying the Guru in a specially prepared automobile. During travel in an airplane, special seats must be bought for the party carrying the SGGS.

Seekers are told that the Sabd Guru could not fly overseas with just one single individual. Such a condition disappoints countless visitors from abroad who go to India with a deep desire to procure the SGGS so that they may install the Guru in their homes for daily obeisance, recitation and vichaar of Guru’s hymns.

The current restrictions rule out completely any access to a SGGS volume for Sikhs living outside India. Even within India, it will be very expensive to have five Sikhs travel in a specially prepared van to deliver the SGGS, say, to Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai or Bangalore, by road.

It is this same fanaticism that resulted in the removal of the SGGS from Indian Embassies and university libraries in North America. All this has been done in the name of satkar (reverence) for SGGS.

According to reports, there appears to be a sinister move under way. Or else, why would Sikhs living outside Punjab, particularly outside India, be denied the opportunity to have SGGS at their residence – the opportunity to be able to read the SGGS themselves, do Sehaj Path, to initiate the children to the Guru, and to take into their heart the divine wisdom contained therein.


The compiler and composer of SGGS, Guru Arjun, himself advised that the Guru’s Word or composition may reside with every person everywhere.

ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਬਚਨੁ ਬਸੈ ਜੀਅ ਨਾਲੇ ॥ SGGS, p. 679
May the he message of the Guru reside within every human being.

The Sikh writer of the highest repute in Guru’s time, the scribe of the Granth, Bhai Gurdas, advocated that the home after home would serve as the abode for the Guru Granth.

ਘਰ ਘਰ ਅਦੰ ਰ ਧਰਮਸਾਲ ਹੋਵੈ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸਦਾ ਿਵਸਆੋ – Gurdas, Var 1, Pauri 26.
Every home shall become a dhramsaal where the sacred songs from SGGS would be sung.


Of course, not! The Guru Granth volume was first installed as Pothi Sahib in 1604 and it was canonized as SGGS in 1708. Since then, the SGGS has been transported by whatever means available to the various parts of the Indian subcontinent. Up until a couple of decades ago, the Shabd Guru was transported and distributed freely among the Sikh congregations and the homes of individual wisdom seekers.

We should refresh our memory of the days when the sacred volume of SGGS was carried in a leather holder slung from the saddle of a horse during the 18th century. Col. Avtar Singh and I are both well past our seventh decade and have seen during our lifetimes SGGS volume packed in a suitcase being transported on a Tonga (horse buggy), bus, train, or horseback, all in the lap of the faithful.

Bhai Kahn Singh, personally, gave a copy of the SGGS to late Mr. Max MaCauliffe, asking him to pack it in his suitcase and take it to UK for his use. MaCauliffe’s servant, who travelled with him and packaged his luggage, was his Muslim servant well-known to Bhai Kahn Singh. He is the one carried the suitcase carrying the volume of SGGS. No one ever reported any sacrilege being committed anywhere in those days. One is at a loss as to why Satkar (reverence) is being made an issue now.


Let us illustrate with the case history of Christian minister, Rev. Dr. H. L. Bradshaw, of Oklahoma City. He developed a fascination with Sikhism through some Sikh students he met at the University of Oklahoma. He began to write articles on Sikhism that were published in Sikh media including the Sikh Review. He then made a pilgrimage to Amritsar where Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) felicitated him and gave him books on Sikhism to take back. He was also given a copy of the SGGS to carry in his suitcase in order to establish a Sikh congregation in Oklahoma, which he did.

Soon after his Amritsar visit and publicity of his starting a Sikh congregation, I heard from SGPC, asking me to visit Dr. Bradshaw to help him where needed. If my memory is correct, I visited Dr. Bradshaw in 1959 and spent a night at his home.

I found that Dr. Bradshaw could not establish a Sikh congregation, so he asked me to take his copy of the SGGS back with me. He could not read Punjabi, and the students who had kindled the spark of Sikhism in him had already left the town.

Thus, I transported the SGGS to Chicago with me in my car. We had formed a Sikh Study Circle there to meet weekly and held sangat in the Guru’s presence. I reported this to SGPC which felt relief that the SGGS volume was taken back safely and will be available to American congregations.


Sikh students studying in universities all over the Midwest USA found out that I was honored with a copy of the SGGS for the benefit of various Sikh congregations. They began to ask me to lend them the Shabd Guru for their Sikh functions. I traveled with the Guru to Madison, Milwaukee, several nearby towns in Indiana, Illinois, and a couple of times to Ohio where late Dr. Kharag Singh of Sikh Research Institute, Dr. Gurbaksh Singh of Punjab Agriculture University, and their colleagues were studying at Ohio University. They invited me with my Guru for Sikh celebrations. They were very appreciative and supportive of the Guru’s visits to various campuses.

A few years later, around 1975, late Sardar Phulel Singh of Takht Patna Sahib had moved to Toronto. One of his missions, he told me, was to provide the Guru to wherever requested. I recall taking the volumes of the SGGS from him to deliver to various sangats in different towns of North America. All were feeling very blessed on the availability of the Guru in the foreign lands. They were all very thankful for this service undertaken by Sirdar Phulel Singh. Sirdar Sahib told me that he imported container loads of the sacred volumes of SGGS for distribution in North America.

Sikhism was really coming to the age of its being without borders with SGGS freely available. Is it not a pity that now son of the same Sardar Phule Singh was denied the Guru Granth from India?


There are reports of unprecedented restrictions imposed on the transportation of SGGS from Amritsar or Delhi – the only two places where it is available. These restrictions are going to cause damage to the practice of Sikhi in the long run. The effect is already being felt by the Sikhs living across the oceans. We call upon the Sikh Nation to find a solution.

The priestly class dare not say directly that an average Sikh cannot read Sri Guru Granth Sahib himself or herself, but these restrictions will take us to that end when only the Brahman Sikh could read the scripture and interpret it. The results of this will be quite unsavory to Sikhi, Sikhism, and Sikh Nation.

These restrictions being imposed are under the pretext of promoting reverence to the Guru. Any mode of reverence that restricts access to the Guru will only be a practice of Brahmanical religiosity. It will do serious harm to the future of global Sikhi. The real Satkar of SGGS lies in reading, reciting, and singing the sacred hymns yourself, vicharna, understanding them, contemplating on them, believing in their guidance, and then sincerely live your life as per Guru’s instructions. In our humble opinion, the most awful disrespect for SGGS is either to ignore reading it or to hire others to recite on your behalf when you are not even present there.

More recently, some Sikh congregations in the USA established the Sikh Education Foundation to facilitate the availability of the SGGS saroop to the needy in the North America. The volunteers of this organizations make available the SGGS free of charge to every qualified desiring Sikh or the Gurdwara, institution, etc. Our religious leaders were expected to be thankful to this organization. Instead, they are looking for every means to punish them and thus stop them from making the Shabd Guru available in Europe and North America.

Editor’s note: This is an abridged version of the original article that can be found on the Blog of Prof Harbans Lal Seeking Wisdom at

Harbans Lal, Ph.D.; D.Litt (Hons) is the Professor Emeritus & Chairman at the Dept of Pharmacology & Neurosciences, University of North Texas Health Science Center. He is also the Professor Emeritus at the Amritsar-based Guru Nanak Dev University as well as President of the Academy of Guru Granth Studies. He can be reached at Link to the original article.

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


You want to respect Guru, make shabad accessible (Asia Samachar, 14 Jan 2016)

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  1. I wonder what would happen if I printed the full Granth Sahib from the internet and bouond it into a volume. Who is in a position to stop me or anyone else from doing it..