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"Translating the Japuji Sahib" by Khushwant Singh

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This page was last updated on October 10th 2000.





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Translating the Japuji Sahib

By Khushwant Singh

Japuji Sahib, the Sikhs’ morning prayer, has been translated into English by scholars, Indian and foreign, scores of times. Among translators who also wrote lengthy commentaries on it were Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Ranjeesh (Osho). The latest to appear is by distinguished Punjabi writer Kartar Singh Duggal. Winner of innumerable literary awards, he is currently a nominated Member of the Rajya Sabha. His The Japuji: Sikh Morning Prayer(UBSPD) was released a few weeks ago.

The importance of Japuji, as Duggal spells it, cannot be overstated. Besides being the morning prayer to be recited at amritvela (pre-dawn ambrosial hour), it forms the opening statement of the Sikhs’ scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, and regarded as the essence of Sikh theology. We are not certain about the time when it was composed but inner evidence points to the conclusion that it was in the later years of the Guru’s life and he took several days to finalise it. It is the only piece in the Granth Sahib which can be read as one sustained piece where the Guru spelt out his vision of God as the ultimate, timeless truth and the path, a seeker must take in order to achieve salvation. He was evidently inspired by the Upanishads: many theologians subscribe to the view that Sikhism is the essence of Vedanta. Japuji is the only part of the Granth Sahib which is meant to be recited, preferably in silent meditation, and not set to ragas of classical music like the other nearly 6,000 hymns of the Granth Sahib. The compiler, the fifth Guru Arjan Dev, gave it the first place as it contained everything that is cardinal to Sikhism.

Japuji is the only part of the Granth Sahib which is meant to be recited, preferably in silent meditation, and not set to ragas of classical music like the other nearly 6,000 hymns of the Granth Sahib. The compiler, the fifth Guru Arjan Dev, gave it the first place as it contained everything that is cardinal to Sikhism.

Among the many translators of the Japjee (as I spell it) was myself. It was the first thing that I did when I set out to write on the religion and the history of the Sikhs. It was the earliest translation of the morning prayer remembered by a Sikh to be published abroad. I am far from being a devout Sikh. Even while working on the translation my literary inspiration was the Bible whose language I believe is most suited for translation of scriptures of other religions. Duggal says his prayers and visits Gurdwara Bangla Sahib every morning. His inspiration comes from his fervent belief in his religion. I reproduce below Duggal’s translation of the invocation and the first verse followed by my rendering of the same. Readers can make their judgement:

There is but one God.
Truth is His name.
He is the Master-Creator.
He is unafraid.
He disdains none.
His is the Image-Eternal.
He is beyond incarnation.
He is self-existent.
He is realised through the grace of the True Guru.

***

He was here in the beginning
And before the beginning.
He is here today,

He will be here hereafter. (I)

***

If you were to meditate on Him,
You may not succeed
Even if you tried a hundred thousand times.
If you tried to take to silence,
You may not succeed
Even if you contemplated ever and ever.
A hungry man’s hunger remains unquenched
Even if he were to amass the whole world’s wealth.
A million means you may try
Not one will succeed.
Then how can one be truthful?
How can one tear the wall of untruth?
Do as He bids you to do,
This is what Nanak has to state forsooth. (I)
Khushwant Singh:
There is one God.
He is the supreme truth.
He, the Creator.
Is without fear and without hate.
He, the Omnipresent,
Pervades the universe.
He is not born,
Nor does he die to be born again.

***

By His grace
Shalt thou worship Him.
Before time itself
There was truth.
When time began to run its course
He was the truth.
Even now, He is the truth
And
Evermore shall truth prevail.

***

Not by thought alone, Can He be known,
Though one think, A Hundred thousand times, Not in solemn silence
Not in deep meditation. Though fasting yield an abundance of virtue.
It cannot appease the hunger for truth. No, by none of these,
Nor by a hundred thousand over devices, Can God be reached. How then shall the Truth be known? How the veil of false illusion torn?
O Nanak, thus runneth the writ divine. The righteous path
let it be thine.


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