From Pothi to Guru Granth Sahib: The Perfect-Genius of Guru Arjan Sahib

Guru Arjan Sahib gifted the eventual Guru Granth Sahib to humanity. Why did the Guru envision it? How did the Guru compile it? What did the Guru curate? This is an abridged version of an article by Harinder Singh published at SikhRi


By Harinder Singh | SIKHI |

Guru Arjan Sahib devised a superb method to curate an anthology that harmonized societal elements in a brilliant framework. The term editor comes from Latin, implying the one who puts forth, brings forth, produces, or publishes. In this context, Guru Arjan Sahib was also the editor and not its current restrictive meaning of a person who edits or makes changes. Guru Arjan Sahib was a perfect-genius. He was a compiler and editor, musician and musicologist, planner and organizer, curator and publisher, author and poet, composer and instrumentalist, producer and director, and much, much more. The Guru is also the lover of the Beloved and the Beloved of us seekers-lovers.

Guru Arjan Sahib (1563-1606) is beyond the mark of excellence.

At age 18, what traits and characteristics does one exhibit to be anointed as the leader of a nation? Guru Arjan Sahib was declared the fifth Sovereign in the line of Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh faith.

At age 28, what methods and resources does one galvanize to inaugurate the center for all people? Guru Arjan Sahib was the architect of Sri Harimandar Sahib (popularly the Golden Temple) in the middle of a pool in the city of Amritsar in the Panjab and developed the city and its markets.

At age 41, what vision and skills does one possess to publish an anthology that becomes the global source of eternal wisdom? Guru Arjan Sahib envisioned and completed the first recension of Guru Granth Sahib, the textual source the Sikhs call their Guru.

At age 43, what love and justice paradigm does one live to be martyred by the state? Guru Arjan Sahib was tortured to death by the Mughal emperor for disrupting the political and religious hegemony.

In Guru Granth Sahib itself, Guru Arjan Sahib is described by a Bhatt (bard) as Divine-like: “Mathura says there is no difference, Guru Arjan is the manifestation of Hari — All-Pervasive, 1-Light, Fear-Eliminator, 1Force” (1408).


Sikhi was gaining adherents. The infinite wisdom of the Sabad was transforming the masses. The people understood the Sabad and were becoming reverential toward it. They began to experience the 1 via Nam, Identification with the 1. Counterfeit Sabads started during Guru Amamdas Sahib’s reign and started to gain currency during the reign of Guru Arjan Sahib. Guru Arjan Sahib’s brother Prithi Chand and his gifted son Miharban wrote sabads under the signature of “Nanak,” too. 


The Sabad compositions were assigned to thirty-one rags or musical modes as well the folk tunes and rhythm. Singing was the recommended mode to harmonize with the verses in the Sabad fully. A combination of season, time, sentiment, flavor, taste, atmosphere, aesthetics, emotions, and moods transports the seeker to feel the 1Force; this is not possible without singing. The contributor arranged poetic genres and forms filled with imagery in a numerical structure and format. The language of love-songs was many, for there were no barriers or restrictions by region, religion, or status. A new Gurmukhi script was employed to capture the experience that is full, dynamic, sensuous, intimate, and profound. Guru Nanak Sahib introduced Gurmukhi letters, organized into Gurmukhi script by Guru Angad Sahib. No one knows what to call this language, no label is possible, but it has elements of Hindustani, Panjabi, Braj, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Prakrit, and Apbransh. It is the language of love, scripted to provide wisdom-centeredness via metaphors, smilies, and symbols that everyday people understand and relate to.

In brief, Guru Granth Sahib as a large volume can be understood by its format-arrangement:  the compilation and the methodology. Without understanding the compilation-methodology, its form-system cannot be fathomed. 


The voluminous constitution of 1430 pages involved sustained labor of love and rigorous intellectual discipline. The selection of poetic, personal experiences of the 1, the songs of love with the 1 by Hindu and Muslim divine-lovers, was a monumental task. The vast eons of knowledge material lay before the Guru that was not selected. The love-songs the world needs must have personal intimacy, not an abstraction. This was not a mixing of Hindu and Muslim; it was a new understanding of the 1. Guru Arjan Sahib’s personal extraordinary experience of the 1 grace the work he carried out without any complexity or fear. The selection of the four Gurus who narrated the unnarratable narrative of the 1, fifteen Hindu and Muslim truth-exemplars of medieval South Asia, ten bards from the region trained in eulogies, and three contemporary Sikhs who documented the Guru’s message for all times formed the anthology.

The inquiring mind wonders why there are no women contributors. No one really knows. What is known unquestionably is that the Sabad’s voice is feminine, the great relationships to explore love are via mother and feminine-friends, and the protagonist is a bride in pangs of separation. 

16 September is the Gugaddi Divas of Guru Arjan Sahib; the day Guruship was enthroned to the Guru in 1581. How can busy householders celebrate that amazing and beautiful memory? The perfect-genius of the Guru Arjan Sahib in Guru Granth Sahib (185) graces us:

When I opened to see the ancestral treasure,
then my mind was filled with enrichment.

Are we ready to witness the treasure?

Harinder Singh is the Senior Fellow at the Sikh Research Institute. He holds a BS in Aerospace Engineering from Wichita State University, an MS in Engineering Management from the University of Kansas, and an MPhil from Punjab University in the linguistics of the Guru Granth Sahib. This article is an abridged version of the original published here.


Guru Granth Is Global – Restrictions Are Antithesis(Asia Samachar, 1 Sept 2022)

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