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An Exposition of Gurmantar

                                                                                                                                                   December 24, 2012


Seva (Selfless Service) and Simran (Contemplative Meditation) are two main pillars of Gurmat (Sikh way of life). While Seva instills humbleness, patience, a sense of self-sacrifice for the betterment of humanity and steadfastness on the path of God in the disciple, Simran serves as the medium for the disciple to become a God-oriented person. Simran not only brings one closer to God, but also transforms the individual into a perfect and God-oriented human being. Engaging in Simran leads to the creation of an ideal human by rising above worldly desires and attaining God-like attributes resulting in the union of human soul with the Almighty God. Therefore, Simran is an essential part of a Sikh’s life as there is nothing more important than remembering God and being attached to Him all the time. Simran is done by meditating and contemplating upon Naam (The Divine-Name).

Gurbani (The Revealed Word, as instilled in the Sikh scriptures) lays great stress on obtaining Naam from Satguru (the True Guru) as the first step for Simran. Naam has a very comprehensive meaning in Gurmat but in this article we will focus on just one aspect of it, the Gurmantar, and explain its necessity, source, meaning, and significance. Also, the article will address some of the misconceptions being spread against meditation on the Gurmantar in order to undermine and demean its significance and mislead some naïve Sikhs to break away from the true way of life.

Necessity of Gurmantar

Gurmantar is made up of two words: Gur and Mantar. Word ‘mantar’ is a Sanskrit term for 'sacred speech'. It has been derived from the root 'man' meaning 'to think', conveying the idea of 'a vehicle of thought'[1]. Word ‘Gur’ refers to Guru which means the mantar is given by the Guru. Therefore, it is called Gurmantar[2]. It is the Guru’s Divine Word given to a Sikh to meditate upon at the time of initiation.[3]

Meditating upon Naam (Gurmantar) is the only most emphasized concept throughout the Sikh Scriptures, as it is the most fundamental principle of true way of life and the only way to achieve salvation. Gurbani and Vaars (compositions of Bhai Gurdas Ji, a contemporary of the Gurus) make it crystal clear that in order to meditate upon Naam, it must be obtained from Satguru in the form of Gurmantar.  To obtain the Gurmantar, one must be willing to surrender completely to the Satguru and abide by His teachings. It is, therefore, the foundation of the Sikh way of life and the first step in becoming a Sikh. Gurbani states:

ਹਰਿ ਕਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਦੀਓ ਗੁਰਿ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ॥ ਮਿਟੇ ਵਿਸੂਰੇ ਉਤਰੀ ਚਿੰਤ ॥੨॥

The Guru has given me the Mantra of the Name of the Lord. My worries are forgotten, and my anxiety is gone. ||2|| (Ang 190)

ਗੁਰ ਮਿਲਿਐ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਾਈਐ ਚੂਕੈ ਮੋਹ ਪਿਆਸ ॥

Meeting with the Guru, the Naam is obtained, and the thirst of emotional attachment departs. (Ang 26)

ਭਾਈ ਰੇ ਗੁਰ ਬਿਨੁ ਭਗਤਿ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਗੁਰ ਭਗਤਿ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਜੇ ਲੋਚੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

O Siblings of Destiny, without the Guru, there is no devotional worship. Without the Guru, devotion is not obtained, even though everyone may long for it. ||1||Pause|| (Ang 31)

ਨਾਮੁ ਅਮੋਲਕੁ ਰਤਨੁ ਹੈ ਪੂਰੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਪਾਸਿ ॥

The Naam is a Priceless Jewel; it is with the Perfect True Guru. (Ang 40)

ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਜਿਸ ਤੇ ਨਾਮੁ ਪਰਾਪਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥੨॥

O Nanak, Blessed and Great is the True Guru, through whom the Naam, the Name of the Lord, is received. ||2|| (Ang 1421)

Hence, it is beyond any doubt that for one to become a Sikh and achieve salvation (union with God), it is absolutely necessary to obtain Naam (Gurmantar) from Satguru and then practice it according to the provided injunctions.  One must not be fooled by any of the heretic sects to be made to think that any human can be a Satguru. To clear all doubts as to who has the authority to give Naam in this day and age, we discuss this matter in some details below.

We learn from Vaars and Gurbani that even during the time period of Guru Nanak Sahib and all the successive Gurus, only the Shabad (the Revealed Word) was considered Satguru. In other words, the physical body was not the Guru nor was it revered by the Sikhs. Sikhs bowed before the body in which the authority of Satguru was vested and light of God resided. Gurbani says:

ਬਾਣੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਹੈ ਬਾਣੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਬਾਣੀ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਸਾਰੇ ॥

The Word, the Bani is Guru, and Guru is the Bani. Within the Bani, the Ambrosial Nectar is contained. (Ang 982)

Bhai Gurdas Ji echoes the same concept:

ਗੁਰ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਹੈ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਵਿਚਿ ਪਰਗਟੀ ਆਇਆ ॥

In fact the physical body of the Guru is ‘Word’ of the Guru which becomes perceptible only in the form of Holy Congregation. (Vaar 24, Pauri 25)

When Guru Nanak Sahib enthroned his disciple and made him Guru Angad Sahib, he bowed before Him and instructed the entire Sikh community to adhere the same. This is why all successive Gurus are considered the same light and ‘Nanak’. Only Guru Sahib had the authority to give Naam. No individual or Sikh had this authority.

Ample quotes have been provided from Gurbani above to prove that only Satguru can give Naam. The same was the case during the time period of Guru Sahibans. As the Sikh population increased, the third Guru Sahib established dioceses (Manjis) and appointed Sikh missionaries to preach and spread the message of Gurmat far and wide. Explaining the role of these missionaries, Dr. Trilochan Singh states:

They were given full authority to preach, except initiating disciples. Considerable authority was given to them. But they were not given two powers: (i) they could not use the tithes (offering of the disciples), they had collected without the express permission of the Guru, (ii) they were supposed to teach and inspire seekers of truth and religious experiences and prepare them as novices for Sikhism, but they were not supposed to initiate or baptize them in any way.[4]

Commenting on the role of early Sikhs, Bhai Randhir Singh states:

Gursikhs were constantly engaged in inspiring and encouraging newcomers and bringing them to the sanctuary of Satguru but they never gave Naam or initiated anyone.[5]

Hence, it is clear that no Sikh could ever give Naam all by himself. The practice continued up until 1699 when Khalsa was established by the tenth Guru and from then on the authority to give Naam was passed on to Punj Pyare (Five Beloved Ones) by way of administering Amrit (holy Nectar). Sikh Scholar Surjit Singh Gandhi explains:

The order of the Khalsa (on March 30, 1699) was another important feature of the Sikh religion. Organizationally, it completely eliminated mediators between the Guru and the Sikhs, for the Sikhs themselves in their collectivity were given the status of Guru.[6]

Anil Chandra Banerjee rightly echoes the same concept by stating:

…the principle was established that the Guru and the disciple were equals, and the Guru’s traditional function of initiating novices in the faith could be performed by any five Sikhs as representatives of the Khalsa.[7]

Bhai Randhir Singh states:

Neither during the time of the ten Gurus could any individual give Naam nor during the time period of Guru Gobind Singh and later could a single person go against the established tradition of Punj Pyare by administering Amrit himself.[8]

Therefore, it is clear that the temporal authority as well as responsibility of administering Amrit or giving Naam is vested in the collective body of Khalsa and any five Sikhs can be chosen to perform the ceremony. In order to emphasize its importance, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji undertook the initiation himself and took Amrit from Punj Pyare, lest any individual poses himself as the sole leader or Guru. After 1699, Guru Sahib did not give Naam alone and for the next nine years ensured that the newly established Punj Pyare Amrit initiation tradition and practice continued uninterruptedly. In 1708, Gurbani or Shabad was declared as the Guru of the Sikhs for all times and Khalsa was given the full charge of temporal authority while remaining subservient to the teachings of Gurbani. To this day, the practice has continued uninterrupted. Bhai Gurdas Ji states:

ਇਕੁ ਸਿਖੁ ਦੁਇ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਗੁ ਪੰਜੀਂ ਪਰਮੇਸਰੁ ॥

One is a Sikh, two the Congregation and in five resides God. (Vaar 13, Pauri 19)

If one person gives Naam (e.g. a Sant or Baba), then it is a human giving Naam, but when five give Naam (in the form of Punj Pyaare) then it is God Himself giving Naam through the five. We sum up by quoting Bhai Randhir Singh. He states:

No single individual has the privilege or right to give Naam.[9]

The True Gurmantar

Since it has been established that Gurmantar is required and the first step to Sikh way of life, in this section we deal with ascertaining the actual Gurmantar in the light of authentic Sikh sources. Bhai Gurdas Ji, an exponent and exegete of Sikh Scriptures makes it abundantly clear as to which word the Gurmantar is. In his Vaars, he writes:

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਹੈ ਜਪਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਖੋਈ ॥

His Guru-mantar is Waheguru, whose recitation erases egotism. (Vaar 13, Pauri 2)

ਸਤਿ ਰੂਪੁ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਦੇਉ ਜਪਾਇਆ॥ ਧਰਮਸਾਲ ਕਰਤਾਰ ਪੁਰੁ ਸਾਧਸੰਗਤਿ ਸਚ ਖੰਡੁ ਵਸਾਇਆ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ ॥੧॥

The True Guru Nanak Dev inspired people to remember the True Name of the Lord whose form is Truth. Founding dharamsala, the place for dharma, at Kartarpur, it was inhabited by the Holy Congregation as the abode of Truth. Word ‘Waheguru’ was imparted (by Guru Nanak) to the people. (Vaar 24, Pauri 1)

It is crystal clear that Waheguru is the true Gurmantar which was given by Guru Nanak Sahib to all those who adopted Gurmat. To further elucidate the point, Bhai Sahib describes an ideal Sikh reciting Waheguru. 

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਦਰਸਨ ਦੇਖਣਾ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਗਤ ਵਿਚ ਅੰਨਾ ਪੋਲਾ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੁ ਸਬਦੁ ਲੈ ਪਿਰਮ ਪਿਆਲਾ ਚੁਪ ਚਲੋਲਾ ॥

He (a true Sikh) beholds the True Guru and without the company of the saints feels himself blind and deaf. The Guru's word he receives is Waheguru, the wondrous Lord, and remains silently immersed in delight. (Vaar 4, Pauri 17)

ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਨਮੁ ਸਕਾਰਥਾ ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਮਿਲਿ ਗੁਰਸਰਣੀ ਆਇਆ॥ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖ ਆਦੇਸੁ ਕਰਿ ਸਫਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਗੁਰਦਰਸਨੁ ਪਾਇਆ॥ ਪਰਦਖਣਾ ਡੰਡਉਤ ਕਰਿ ਮਸਤਕੁ ਚਰਣ ਕਵਲ ਗੁਰ ਲਾਇਆ॥ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਪੁਰਖ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਹੋਇ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਸਚੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ॥

The life of that Gurmukh is fortunate whom meeting some Sikh of the Guru has come to the shelter of the Guru. He bows before primeval Purusa (God) and becomes blessed after having the sight of such a Guru. After circumambulation he bows on the lotus feet of Guru. Becoming kind, the Guru recites True mantra Waheguru for him. (Vaar 11, Pauri 3)

ਵੇਦ ਕਤੇਬ ਅਗੋਚਰਾ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦੁ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ ॥

The Gurus recited Word-Guru as Waheguru that is beyond the Vedas and Katebas (the Semitic scriptures). (Vaar 12, Pauri 17)

From above, we can see that the word ‘Waheguru’ is the Gurmantar. It is noteworthy to mention that Bhai Gurdas Ji was initiated into the Sikh religion by the 3rd Guru Sahib Himself which means that he not only received Gurmantar from Guru Sahib but also possessed firsthand knowledge of the Sikh fundamentals. Further, his Vaars and Kabits were approved and given the status of ‘Key to Gurbani’ by Guru Sahib himself, which makes his works authentic and indisputable. He was also the first Sikh to transcribe the first Sikh Canon, Aad Guru Granth Sahib Ji under the guidance and supervision of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib Ji. Furthermore, Bhai Sahib was appointed to propagate the Sikh faith to distant places in India, as his knowledge and understanding of the Sikh faith was correct and certain. From these arguments we can conclude that Bhai Gurdas Ji’s explanation on Gurmantar is authentic and unquestionable.

Poet Santokh Singh, an eminent Sikh scholar and historian begins his monumental work Sri Gur Partap Sooraj Parkash by praising all Sikh Gurus and ending with praising Waheguru as the true Name of God. He states:

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਸਤਿਨਾਮ ਕੋ ਬੰਦਨ ਬਾਰੰਬਾਰ। ਬੰਧ ਨਿਕੰਦਨ, ਸੁਖ ਸਦਨ, ਦੁਖ ਮਰਦਨ ਨਿਰਧਾਰ ॥34॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਬਰ ਸੁੰਦਰ ਨਾਮੂ। ਸਦਾ ਸਵਾਰੇ ਹਮਰੇ ਕਾਮੂ। ਇਕ ਅਵਿਲੰਬ ਨਾਮ ਕੋ ਜਾਨਾ। ਕਲੀ ਕਾਲ ਸਮਰੱਥ ਨ ਆਨਾ ॥35॥

(ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ ਜੀ ਦੇ) ਸਚੇ ਨਾਮ-ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ-ਨੂੰ ਵਾਰ ਵਾਰ ਮੇਰੀ ਨਮਸਕਾਰ ਹੋਵੇ, ਜੋ ਨਿਸ਼ਚੇ (ਲੋਕ ਪ੍ਰਲੋਕ ਦੀਆਂ) ਬੰਦਸ਼ਾਂ ਦੇ ਕੱਟਣ ਵਾਲਾ ਹੈ, (ਦੋਹੀਂ ਲੋਕੀਂ) ਸੁਖ ਦਾ ਘਰ ਹੈ, (ਤੇ ਸਭ ਕਿਸਮ ਦੇ) ਦੁੱਖਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਮਲ ਸਿੱਟਣੇ ਵਾਲਾ ਹੈ। ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਸ੍ਰੇਸ਼ਟ (ਤੇ) ਸੁੰਦਰ ਨਾਮ ਹੈ (ਅਕਾਲ ਪੁਰਖ ਦਾ, ਜੋ) ਸਾਡੇ ਕੰਮ ਸਦਾ ਸਵਾਰਦਾ ਹੈ। ਕਲਿਜੁਗ (ਵਿਚ) ਹੋਰ (ਕੋਈ ਸਾਧਨ) ਸਮਰੱਥਵਾਨ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੈ, (ਇਸ ਕਰਕੇ ਅਸਾਂ) ਇਕ (ਪਰਮੇਸ਼ੁਰ ਦੇ) ਨਾਮ ਨੂੰ ਹੀ (ਆਪਣਾ) ਆਸਰਾ ਜਾਣਿਆ ਹੈ।

I bow to the true Name Waheguru again and again which indeed is the destroyer of all worldly attachments and sorrows and an ocean of peace and bliss. Waheguru is superior and a sublime name of Akaal (Immortal God) which fulfills all desires. No other way or religious rite is equal to this name and this is why I have taken its sanctuary and support.[10]

Bhai Nand Lal Ji (a contemporary and poet of Guru Gobind Singh Ji) explains in his Rehatnama (document explaining Sikh code of conduct) that a Sikh must start his day by waking up early in the morning and meditating upon Waheguru.

ਗੁਰਸਿਖ ਰਹਿਤ ਸੁਨੋ ਰੇ ਮੀਤ ॥ ਪਰਭਾਤੇ ਉਠ ਕਰ ਹਿਤ ਚੀਤ ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਪੁਨ ਮੰਤਰ ਸੁ ਜਾਪ ॥

O Gursikh friends, listen to the rehat (code of conduct) of the Guru. Wake up during ambrosial hours (early in the morning) and meditate on Guru’s word Waheguru.[11]

Bhai Desa Singh (youngest son of Bhai Mani Singh, a companion of Guru Gobind Singh Ji) in his Rehatnama explains:

ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਨਿਤ ਬਚਨ ਉਚਾਰੇ ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਕੋ ਹਿਰਦੇ ਧਾਰੇ ॥

Utter the (mantar) Waheguru daily.  Always keep the (mantar) ‘Waheguru’ enshrined in your heart.[12]

A collective body of Sikh scholars in the mid-20th century reviewed all authentic sources of Rehatnamas written by various Sikhs and composed the Sikh Rehat Maryada (Code of Conduct). The scholars unanimously agreed that Waheguru is Gurmantar and the true word for a Sikh to meditate upon.

A Sikh should wake up in the ambrosial hours (three hours before the dawn), take bath and, concentrating his/her thoughts on One Immortal Being, repeat the name Waheguru (Wondrous Destroyer of darkness).[13]

Based on authentic sources cited above, it is unambiguously clear that Waheguru is the real and true Gurmantar in Gurmat.

Source of Gurmantar

Some ignorant individuals and anti-Sikhi cohorts are keenly spreading misinformation that the Gurmantar is a combination of different names of Hindu incarnations. To make their flimsy position credible, they reference a particular Pauri from the first Vaar and misinterpret it to support their falsehood. In this section, we take up this matter in order to dispel such a delusion and clear all doubts.

The Sikh Guru Sahibans have made it explicitly clear that Gurbani or the message they preached is directly revealed from God and is not taken from any other source. We present few quotes to illustrate this point.

ਹਉ ਆਪਹੁ ਬੋਲਿ ਨ ਜਾਣਦਾ ਮੈ ਕਹਿਆ ਸਭੁ ਹੁਕਮਾਉ ਜੀਉ ॥

By myself, I do not even know how to speak; I speak all that the Lord commands. (Ang 763)

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਸਤਿ ਸਤਿ ਕਰਿ ਜਾਣਹੁ ਗੁਰਸਿਖਹੁ ਹਰਿ ਕਰਤਾ ਆਪਿ ਮੁਹਹੁ ਕਢਾਏ ॥

O GurSikhs, know that the Bani, the Word of the True Guru, is true, absolutely true. The Creator Lord Himself causes the Guru to chant it. (Ang 308)

ਬੋਲਾਇਆ ਬੋਲੀ ਤੇਰਾ ॥ ਤੂ ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਗੁਣੀ ਗਹੇਰਾ ॥

I speak as You cause me to speak; O Lord and Master, You are the ocean of excellence. (Ang 622)

Since the entire Gurbani has come from God directly, it leaves no room for Gurmantar to be taken from any other source. It leads us to conclude that each and every word of Gurbani including Gurmantar has come directly from God. Gurmantar refers to the creative power of God which is eternal. No other prophet, messenger or avatar ever had the honor of receiving revelation of this word. Rama Chandra, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad and others did not reveal any new name of God but took already existed names and redefined them to make them suitable to their preaching.

Bhai Randhir Singh, an eminent scholar and spiritual icon of Gurmat, states in his work:

Immortal Lord Himself revealed Gurmantar to Guru Nanak Sahib only and none other.[14]

Additionally, there is no indication made by Guru Sahib in Gurbani stating that Gurmantar is copied from names of Hindu incarnations. It must be kept in mind that in Gurbani, the name of the Guru-author is very clearly written with his respective compositions. Accusing Guru Sahib of using names of Hindu gods to form Gurmantar, which is bedrock and pivot of Sikh way of life is nothing short of an insult to the Gurus’ noble character. The fact that no word similar to Gurmantar exists in any other holy book or scripture is sufficient to prove that its source is God Himself.

Now we move on to discussing the Pauri of Bhai Gurdas Ji to prove that its actual meanings are contrary to what is being propagated. Bhai Gurdas Ji in the last Pauri (49) of his first Vaar explains the significance of Gurmantar.

ਸਤਿਜੁਗ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਵਾਸਦੇਵ ਵਾਵਾ ਵਿਸ਼ਨਾ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥

ਦੁਆਪਰ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਹਰੀਕ੍ਰਿਸ਼ਨ ਹਾਹਾ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮ ਧਿਆਵੈ॥

ਤ੍ਰੇਤੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਰਾਮ ਜੀ ਰਾਰਾ ਰਾਮ ਜਪੇ ਸੁਖ ਪਾਵੈ॥

ਕਲਿਜੁਗ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਗਗਾ ਗੋਵਿੰਦ ਨਾਮ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥

ਚਾਰੇ ਜਾਗੇ ਚਹੁ ਜੁਗੀ ਪੰਚਾਇਣ ਵਿਚ ਜਾਇ ਸਮਾਵੈ॥

ਚਾਰੋਂ ਅਛਰ ਇਕ ਕਰ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਜਪ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਜਪਾਵੈ॥

ਜਹਾਂ ਤੇ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਫਿਰ ਤਹਾਂ ਸਮਾਵੈ ॥੪੯॥੧॥

Some have misunderstood the implied meanings of the above Pauri and by distorting it conclude that Gurmantar is formed by taking first letter of each of the following names: Vishnu, Hari Krishna, Govind and Raam. Misinterpreted meanings of the Pauri to justify such a false theory are given below:

In Satyug, Vishnu in the form of Vasudev is said to have incarnated and ‘V’ Of Waheguru reminds of Vishnu.

The True Guru of Dvapar is said to be Harikrishna and ‘H’ of Waheguru reminds of Hari.

In the Treta was Ram and ‘R’ of Waheguru tells that remembering Ram will produce joy and happiness.

In Kalyug, Gobind is in the form of Nanak and ‘G’ of Waheguru gets Govind recited.

The recitations of all the four ages subsume in Panchayan i.e. in the soul of the common man.

When joining four letters Waheguru is remembered,

The Jiv merges again in its origin. (49)

Bhai Veer Singh, a great scholar of 20th century has addressed this question in length in his commentary of Vaars[15] but we will summarize it briefly here along with providing additional clarification.

  1. Vasudev did not incarnate in Satyug. In Hinduism, Vasudev name is used for Krishna who according to Hindu mythology took birth in Dwapar and not Satyug. The name Hari Krishna is already mentioned in the second line. Therefore, the suggested meanings of the Pauri are wrong because had Guru Sahib used God’s names from each Yug (time period) He would not have used two names of same incarnation from the same time period. Further, in Vaar 1 Pauri 5 line 4, Bhai Gurdas Ji states that according to Hindu mythology, Vishnu took form of Hansa (swan) in Satyug and propagated “So-han(g)” name meaning “that (God) which is I”. If we are to literally interpret the Pauri under discussion then letter ਸ (S), which is not found anywhere in Gurmantar, should have also been taken. Also, such literal interpretations would cause Vaars to suffer from contradictions. Further, it is irrational to believe that Vishnu took two different forms and propagated two separate names Vasudev and So-han(g) in the same time period.
  2. If we consider, for the sake of argument, that first letter of each names listed above forms Gurmantar then its correct form would’ve been ਵਹਰਗ (Vhrg) but if we also take each vowel attached to the first letter then the form becomes ਵਾਹਗੋਰਾ (Wahgora). It is important to note that the order of Yugs (time periods) given in the Pauri is also not in order. Treta was the second time period followed by Dwapar whereas in the Pauri the order is reversed. If we correct the order then the form becomes ਵਾਹਰਾਗੋ (Wahrago). In order to make a correct form of Gurmantar out of these names, one will have to do the following:

ਵਾ – Taking Va as it is from Vasudev

ਹ – Taking H as it is from Hari and adding a sihari (ਿ) to it

ਗ – Taking G from Govind and replacing hora (ੋ) with aunkar (ੁ)

ਰ – Taking R from Raam and replacing kanna (ਾ) with dulainkar (ੂ)

One can see that the theory at its very face gets blown away because developing the correct form of Gurmantar without significant grammar modifications and alterations is not possible. It does not stop here. It also puts times periods out of order as: Satyug (1), Dwapar (3), Kalyug (4) and then Treta (2). Therefore, the theory that Waheguru is taken from first letters of previously propagated names of God is a mere conjecture and hence, unsubstantiated and ridiculous. 

  1. Suggested meanings of line 4 are false. During the time of Bhai Gurdas Ji, Satguru was Guru HarGobind Sahib Ji. Therefore, from His name the letter ਹ (H) should have been chosen instead of picking the third letter ਗ (G). Bhai Sahib could not have been referring to Guru Gobind Singh Ji because He was not Satguru at the time. If one asserts that the meaning of line 4 suggests that Guru Nanak Sahib Ji taught the name Govind then the theory creates even more complicated dilemmas. If Guru Sahib taught Govind as the true name then it should have been Gurmantar but the fact that Govind name was already in existence and the misinterpreted meanings of the Pauri suggest that only first letter from Govind was taken to form a better name (Waheguru), it does not add any weight to the argument.
  2. Krishna and Rama were never considered Satguru. They were incarnations or called avatar of Vishnu but they were never given the status of Satguru. In fact, the word Satguru is not even mentioned with their names in any Hindu book. Satguru is the only being that does not need a Guru to obtain worldly or spiritual education. Satguru is always united with God. Krishna and Rama acquired religious knowledge from their human gurus Ghor Angra and Vishisht respectively.

In light of presented arguments, it is clear that the source of Gurmantar is not the names of Hindu incarnations. On the contrary, incarnations Vishnu, Krishna and Rama are not given any credence in Gurmat. A few quotes from Gurbani will illustrate the point:

ਕੋਟਿ ਬਿਸਨ ਅਵਤਾਰ ਸੰਕਰ ਜਟਾਧਾਰ ॥ ਚਾਹਹਿ ਤੁਝਹਿ ਦਇਆਰ ਮਨਿ ਤਨਿ ਰੁਚ ਅਪਾਰ ॥

Millions of incarnations of Vishnu and Shiva, with matted hair yearn for You, O Merciful Lord; their minds and bodies are filled with infinite longing. (Ang 455)

ਅਵਤਾਰ ਨ ਜਾਨਹਿ ਅੰਤੁ ॥ ਪਰਮੇਸਰੁ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਬੇਅੰਤੁ ॥੧॥

Incarnated beings do not know His limit. The Lord, the Supreme Lord God, is infinite. ||1|| (Ang 894)

ਕਾਹੂ ਨੇ ਰਾਮ ਕਹਯੋ ਕ੍ਰਿਸ਼ਨਾ ਕਹੁ ਕਾਹੂ ਮਨੈ ਅਵਤਾਰਨ ਮਾਨਯੋ ॥ ਫੋਕਟ ਧਰਮ ਬਿਸਾਰ ਸਭੈ ਕਰਤਾਰ ਹੀ ਕਉ ਕਰਤਾ ਜੀਅ ਜਾਨਯੋ ॥੧੨॥

Someone calls him Ram or Krishna and someone believes in His incarnations, but my mind has forsaken all useless actions and has accepted only the One Creator. ||12|| (33 Sawayeas, Guru Gobind Singh Ji)

ਨਾਨਕ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਹੋਰਿ ਕੇਤੇ ਰਾਮ ਰਵਾਲ ॥

O Nanak, the Lord is fearless and formless; myriads of others, like Rama, are mere dust before Him. (Ang 464)

The quotes above evidently distinguish between Hindu incarnations and One Almighty God who is above them and their Creator. This is precisely why Guru Sahib considered appropriate to use words like Raam, Hari and Govind for the All-Powerful rather than for Hindu incarnations that are “mere dust” before Him. Scholars of 19th and 20th century have interpreted the Pauri differently but all are unanimous that it does not refer to any of the incarnations being Satguru in previous time period. Giani Sahib Singh, Kavi Santokh Singh, Pandit Tara Singh Narotam and Pandit Kartar Singh Dakha suggest that the names Vasudev, Hari, Raam and Govind must be interpreted on the basis of Gurbani in which these words are specifically used for God and therefore, refer to different attributes of God. All the words used for Hindu incarnations in Hindu mythology are used specifically for God in Gurbani. Sharad Chandra Verma states:

Guru Nanak transcended the interpretations of the prevailing religious doctrines. He properly gave the evidence for the originality of his own doctrines. When he depicted the names of God as Rama or Krishna in his verses by that he did not mean incarnation of Vishnu, but the unincarnate Absolute God. He not only described God as Rama or Krishna or Gopala, but also as Allah, Karim, Rahim.[16]

To clarify the point further, for example, Raam and Vasudev are used to refer to Omnipresent God in the following verses:

ਰਮਤੁ ਰਾਮ ਸਭ ਰਹਿਓ ਸਮਾਇ ॥

The Lord is ever-present, all-pervading. (Ang 865)

ਵਾਸੁਦੇਵ ਜਲ ਥਲ ਮਹਿ ਰਵਿਆ ॥

The All-pervading Lord is permeating and pervading the oceans and the land. (Ang 259)

No individual can credibly assert that Vishnu and Rama Chandra are Omnipresent because they were kings in their time period and eventually were glorified by people and raised to the status of incarnations. Gurbani says:

ਜੁਗਹ ਜੁਗਹ ਕੇ ਰਾਜੇ ਕੀਏ ਗਾਵਹਿ ਕਰਿ ਅਵਤਾਰੀ ॥

ਤਿਨ ਭੀ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਇਆ ਤਾ ਕਾ ਕਿਆ ਕਰਿ ਆਖਿ ਵੀਚਾਰੀ ॥੭॥

In each and every age, God creates the kings, who are sung of as His Incarnations (Avtars). Even they have not found God's limits; what can I speak of and contemplate? ||7|| (Ang 423)

Other words like Hari, Govind, Banvari etc. used for Hindu incarnations in Hindu mythology are used to refer to One Almighty God in Gurmat. If a pagan was to assert that the word Allah in Quran refers to one of their idols, he would be clearly wrong and his claim would be dismissed as ridiculous and irrational because this word acquires special and specific meaning in the context of Quran. The point we emphasize is that when an already existing word is used in a different religious system, it acquires new definition, meaning and context and must be weighed according to the definitions and standards as outlined by the respective faith’s scriptures. In the same way, Hindu incarnations have nothing to do with the attributive names used for God in Gurbani. Gajinder Singh explains:

When the Guru says that Ram and Allah are the same, he refers to it according to his definitions. Ram ceases to be a prince born in eastern India. Here Ram is God present within all creation.[17]

Dr. Rohi states:

In gurbani some names of God are used which were originally used for the names of incarnated gods of the polytheistic tradition but, the original monotheistic standpoint as revealed in the Sikh scripture and interpreted in the monotheistic framework was never shattered. All the names even of Hindu gods and of Islamic tradition were used according to the monotheistic model maintained by the Sikh theological formulation. In gurbani the same one Being was called Rama and Allah with equal theological meaning and respect.[18]

Dr. Sher Singh further elucidates this point:

It is not the letters or the sound symbols which have a meaning near God, but it is the mental content or the heart which is means of communion with God. It was this truth which did not make the guru prejudiced in favour of or against any name of God occurring in any language. Any name that he could recall (for God) was used by him.[19]

Therefore, it is clear that words like Raam, Krishan, Allah etc. in Gurbani are used for the same God and not to describe Hindu or Islamic viewpoint of God.

Coming back to the topic, Sikh Sampardas (schools) like Damdami Taksal believe that only one letter of Gurmantar was revealed in each time period and never in its full form. The revelation of the whole Gurmantar is an honor only bestowed by God to Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. From this, we deduce that the Gurmantar was not formed by taking each letter from the names of Hindu personalities incarnated in each age. On the contrary, it was a single letter of Gurmantar that was given to each previous Hindu incarnation. Thus, it adds greatness to Gurmat that God revealed full form of His Naam only to Guru Sahib.          

Detailed discussion concerning source of Gurmantar proves beyond the doubt that it was revealed directly from God to Guru Sahib. Accordingly, the Pauri can be interpreted as follows:

In Satyug, Omnipresent Satguru (God) revealed the letter V which Vishnu (or his incarnation) used to meditate upon God. In Dwapar, Hari Satguru (God) revealed the letter H which Krishna reflected upon to remember God. In Treta, Omnipresent Satguru (God) gave R letter to Rama who obtained bliss and peace by meditating upon it. In Kalyug, Nanak Guru is Govind (One with God) who along with letter G revealed the entire word and completed the Gurmantar in its full form. He propagated it as Gurmantar to be meditated upon by everyone. Meditation upon Gurmantar will result in union between the disciple and God (it will take the disciple back to its source which is God). (Vaar 1, Pauri 49)

Thus, we conclude this section by emphasizing the undisputed fact that God is the source of Gurmantar that was revealed to Guru Sahib for meditation and is capable of uniting the disciple with the Ultimate Reality.

Gurmantar and Gurbani

Since it has been proven that obtaining Gurmantar from Satguru is absolutely required, in this section we discuss the methods that are used in Gurbani to emphasize importance of Gurmantar. Some ignorant individuals claim that Gurmantar altogether does not appear in Gurbani. Their objection is simply an empty claim. Here is just one example:

ਸਤਿ ਸਾਚੁ ਸ੍ਰੀ ਨਿਵਾਸੁ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਸਦਾ ਤੁਹੀ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਵਾਹਿ ਜੀਉ ॥੧॥੬॥

You are forever True, the Home of Excellence, the Primal Supreme Being. Vaahay Guru, Vaahay Guru, Vaahay Guru, Vaahay Jee-o. ||1||6|| (Ang 1402)

A detailed and careful study of Gurbani reveals that in Gurbani, Gurmantar is mentioned implicitly as opposed to explicitly. This is done via two methods.

The First Method - Nouns

First method employs using nouns as adjectives such as ‘Satnaam’ (True Name), ‘Sacha Mantar’ (True Mantar or True Word), “Wah Wah” (Wonderful Exalted Lord), “Gur Gur” or “Guru Guru” or simply just “Naam”. Here are a few examples:

ਚਲਤ ਬੈਸਤ ਸੋਵਤ ਜਾਗਤ ਗੁਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਚਿਤਾਰਿ ॥

ਚਰਣ ਸਰਣ ਭਜੁ ਸੰਗਿ ਸਾਧੂ ਭਵ ਸਾਗਰ ਉਤਰਹਿ ਪਾਰਿ ॥੧॥

ਮੇਰੇ ਮਨ ਨਾਮੁ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਧਾਰਿ ॥

ਕਰਿ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਿ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਲਾਇ ਹਰਿ ਸਿਉ ਅਵਰ ਸਗਲ ਵਿਸਾਰਿ ॥੧॥ਰਹਾਉ॥

While walking and sitting, sleeping and waking, contemplate within your heart the GurMantra. Run to the Lord's lotus feet, and join the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy. Cross over the terrifying world-ocean, and reach the other side. ||1|| O my mind, enshrine the Naam, the Name of the Lord, within your heart. Love the Lord, and commit your mind and body to Him; forget everything else. ||1||Pause|| (Ang 1006)

The above Shabad by Guru Arjan Dev Sahib Ji clarifies Gurmantar is Naam because in the first Pauri Guru Ji instructs to contemplate Gurmantar in heart then in Rahaao line (the central idea) Gurbani instructs to contemplate on Naam in the heart. This proves that Gurmantar and Naam are synonymous.

ਕਿਰਤਮ ਨਾਮ ਕਥੇ ਤੇਰੇ ਜਿਹਬਾ ॥ ਸਤਿਨਾਮੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਪਰਾ ਪੂਰਬਲਾ ॥

With my tongue I chant the Names given to You. 'Sat Naam' is Your perfect, primal Name. (Ang 1082)

In the above couplet, ‘Satnaam’ is an adjective for Gurmantar and is referred to as the True Name which is unlike all other names referred as ‘Kirtam’. Kirtam names are the names given to God by humans who have had higher and greater mystical and spiritual experiences. The deeper they go in meditation, the closer they get to God and more secrets of the Truth are revealed to them. Thus, highly spiritual beings learn more about God and receive His blessings in form of wisdom and the result is Kirtam names. They learn that God is the Giver, Creator, Destroyer, and Sustainer so on and so forth. All these names are attributes of God which is why they are called Kirtam names whereas His “Para Poorbla” (Primal or Original Name) is Waheguru which is described as ‘Satnaam’ (True Name). A caution must be taken to correctly understand the Shabad. The word “Satnaam” (a four letter word) is an adjective and not a name in itself. It is not a name of God.[20] Consider the following quote:

ਸਚੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਤੁਮਾਰਾ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤ ਬਾਣੀ ॥

True is Your Mantra, Ambrosial is the Bani of Your Word. (Ang 562)

In the above line, Guru Sahib states that God’s Word is True Mantar (Gurmantar). It does not refer to the entire Gurbani as Gurmantar. The word ‘Mantar’ is a singular noun and not plural. Hence, it implies that only a single word is the True Mantar. Further, words ‘Amrit Bani’ (Ambrosial Bani) are explicitly mentioned and refer to the entire Gurbani as a whole which makes the word ‘Mantar’ distinct from Gurbani. This also refutes the claim put forth by some that the entire Gurbani is Gurmantar. Wherever an injunction to meditate is given in Gurbani, any adjective or noun used for Gurmantar is singular, hence, referring to one single word.

Bhai Gurdas Ji also employs the same methodology by using ‘Satnaam’ as an adjective for Gurmantar. In his Vaars, he states that Guru Nanak Sahib blessed Sikhs with ‘Satnaam’ (the True Name).

ਨਮਸਕਾਰ ਗੁਰਦੇਵ ਕੋ ਸਤਿਨਾਮੁ ਜਿਸੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ॥ ਭਵਜਲ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਕਢਿ ਕੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਪਦਾਰਥਿ ਮਾਹਿ ਸਮਾਇਆ॥

I bow before the Guru (Guru Nanak Dev) who recited the Satnam Mantra (for the world). Getting (the creatures) across the World Ocean he raptly merged them in liberation. (Vaar1, Pauri 1)

The pauri states that Guru Sahib blessed everyone with ‘Satnaam’ which liberated all from the worldly tangles. He further states:

ਕਲਿਜੁਗ ਬਾਬੇ ਤਾਰਿਆ ਸਤਿਨਾਮੁ ਪੜਿ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ॥

Baba Nanak rescued this Dark Age (Kalyug) and recited ‘Satnam’ mantra for one and all. (Vaar1, Pauri 23)

This again echoes the same principle. Since Bhai Sahib was a great scholar of Gurmat, he knew fully well that some might misinterpret Gurbani and mistakenly consider ‘Satnaam’ as Gurmantar. To eliminate such doubt and misunderstanding, he clearly states in his Vaars, as shown in the beginning of this article, that ‘Waheguru’s is Gurmantar. Here we only quote one line to suffice our point.

ਸਤਿਗੁਰੁ ਪੁਰਖ ਦਇਆਲੁ ਹੋਇ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਸਚੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਸੁਣਾਇਆ॥

Becoming kind, the Guru recites (as a way of imparting) True mantra Waheguru for him (new disciple). (Vaar 11, Pauri 3)

In the line above, the word ‘Waheguru’ is declared as ‘Satnaam’ i.e. True Mantar. This proves that in all previous verses quoted from Vaars, ‘Satnaam’ is not declared a Gurmantar but an adjective for it. Since Vaars were approved and given the status of “Key to Gurbani” by Guru Sahib, it leaves no doubt that ‘Satnaam’ is an adjective and employed to refer to Gurmantar ‘Waheguru’ and is not the Gurmantar itself.

Moving on with the subject, we present some quotes from Gurbani (emphasis added) that employ other nouns as adjectives for Gurmantar.

ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੁ ਕਰਿ ਮਨ ਮੋਰ ॥

Chant Guru, Guru, Guru, O my mind. (Ang 864)

ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਰਬਾਣੁ ਨਿਧਾਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਉਰਿ ਧਰਹੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਕਰਹੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਈਐ ॥੩॥੧੫॥

Enshrine the Naam, the Name of the Lord, within your heart, and dwell in Nirvaanaa. Chant Guru, Guru, Guru; through the Guru, the Lord is obtained. ||3||15|| (Ang 1401)

ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਸਿਫਤਿ ਸਲਾਹ ਹੈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਕੋਇ ॥

Vaaho! Vaaho! is His Eulogy and Praise; how rare are the Gurmukhs who understand this. (Ang 514)

ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਕਰਤਿਆ ਰੈਣਿ ਸੁਖਿ ਵਿਹਾਇ ॥ ਵਾਹੁ ਵਾਹੁ ਕਰਤਿਆ ਸਦਾ ਅਨੰਦੁ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੇਰੀ ਮਾਇ ॥

Chanting Waaho! Waaho! the night of one's life passes in peace. Chanting Waaho! Waaho! I am in eternal bliss, O my mother! (Ang 514)

In the above Shabads, all the nouns used as adjectives have been bolded to emphasize the fact that chanting “Guru Guru” and “Wah Wah” implies chanting praises of God and an act of meditation. Use of such nouns is an implicit way of referring to full form of Gurmantar. The injunction here is to chant Gurmantar and not these exact words themselves. In the following line, both words ‘Gur’ and ‘Wah’ have been used for Gurmantar.

ਨਾਨਕ ਦਾਸ ਕਹਹੁ ਗੁਰ ਵਾਹੁ ॥੪॥੨੧॥

O servant Nanak, chant His Glorious Praises. ||4||21|| (Ang 376)

Although the meanings could not have been clearer, yet some gullible and misinformed individuals put forth far-fetched ideas and assert by switching the order of the last two words that Gurmantar is ਵਾਹੁਗੁਰ (Wahgur). This is nothing but their mere conjecture, imagination and lack of serious inquiry and study of Gurbani. Since the time of founding the Sikh religion by Guru Nanak Sahib there has been no controversy over what the Gurmantar is. Such a distortion of Gurbani is against its unique grammar rules.

The reason ਵਾਹੁਗੁਰ (Wahgur) cannot be Gurmantar is because it is a compound adjective word whereas Gurmantar is a proper noun. The word ਗੁਰ without an ‘aunkar’ (ੁ) is not used in Gurbani as a noun. Rather, it is used as an adjective. Sometimes it is used in possessive case or with prepositions but it is never used as a noun in Gurbani. Wherever it is used as a noun, it always has an ‘aunkar’. Further, according to grammar rules, a missing ‘aunkar’ implies that the word ਗੁਰ is a compound word with its preposition which is always the word that follows it. Hence, it cannot be associated or compounded with the word preceding it. Therefore, the word ਵਾਹੁਗੁਰ (Wahgur) is not a Gurmantar but a compound adjective word used for Gurmantar.[21] Meanings of the line quoted are very simple and straightforward: “Chant the glorious praises (Wah) of True Guru (God)”. Our discussion so far is rightly summarized by an eminent scholar Dr. Trilochan Singh as follows:

Wahe-Guru is the Guru-mantra in Sikhism. It is referred symbolically as ‘Guru Guru’. In Sikh Scriptures it is also indicated as, Satnam, maha-mantra, Wah, Wah, or Guru Guru.[22]

Moving on with the subject, here are few quotes from Gurbani in which ‘Naam’ is used to refer to Gurmantar.

ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਸਾਜਨ ਸੈਨਾ ॥

So chant the Naam, O my friends and companions. (Ang 366)

ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਨਿਰੰਜਨ ਜਪੀਐ ਮਿਲਿ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਇਆ ॥੩॥

O Nanak, chant the Naam, the Name of the Immaculate Lord; meeting the True Guru, peace is obtained. ||3|| (Ang 780)

Therefore, we conclude that nouns like ‘Satnaam’, ‘Wah Wah’, or ‘Guru Guru’ etc. refer to Gurmantar alone.

Second Method – Attributive Names

Second method used in Gurbani to refer to Gurmantar is by employing different attributive names of God to emphasize meditation upon Naam. Some of these names are Raam (Omnipresent Lord), Sarangpaani (Sustainer), Gopal (Supporter) etc. 

ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਇ ਲੇ ਮੀਤਾ ਹਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਤੇਰੀ ਲਾਜ ਰਹੈ ॥

Sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord's Name, O friend; remembering the Lord in meditation, your honor shall be saved. (Ang 889)

ਉਚਰਹੁ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮੁ ਲਖ ਬਾਰੀ ॥

Chant the Lord's Name, hundreds of thousands of times, O my dear. (Ang 194)

ਮੇਰੇ ਮਨ ਮੁਖਿ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਬੋਲੀਐ ॥

O my mind, chant the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, Har. (Ang 527)

It is clear that words Raam and Har are used as adjectives for Gurmantar. One must not interpret these verses literally to conclude that words Raam and Har in strict sense should be meditated upon. Some quote the following verse in defense of such an empty claim:

ਰਾਮ ਜਪਉ ਜੀਅ ਐਸੇ ਐਸੇ ॥ ਧ੍ਰੂ ਪ੍ਰਹਿਲਾਦ ਜਪਿਓ ਹਰਿ ਜੈਸੇ ॥੧॥

Just as Dhroo and Prahlaad meditated on the Lord, so should you meditate on the Lord, O my soul. ||1|| (Ang 337)

Misunderstanding the above Shabad, some assert that the injunction is being given to meditate upon the name “Raam”. However, it is a false claim because there is no such injunction present in the Shabad. The words ਐਸੇ and ਜੈਸੇ make it clear that names of Dhru and Prehlaad are given to serve as an example and an ideal way to meditate upon Naam. The command is given to follow the footsteps of devoted servants like Dhru and Prehlaad in terms of devotion and steadfastness. But the verse does not call out to chant “Raam” as Gurmantar. The verse cannot be interpreted in literal sense otherwise imitating Dhru and Prehlaad would not only mean chanting the name “Raam” but also renouncing the householder life and retiring to forests for many years for meditation which is strongly condemned in Gurbani. The same Shabad further states the following verse:

ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਭਜੁ ਸਾਰਿਗਪਾਨੀ ॥

Says Kabeer, meditate, vibrate upon the Lord, the Sustainer of the earth.

If we interpret it literally, it would mean that the word Sarangpaani (Sustainer) must be meditated upon. Such literal interpretation does not tell us which Name to meditate upon and it keeps the disciple confused and flabbergasted because multiple words (Raam and Sarangpaani) are mentioned in the same Shabad. Since Gurbani does not have varied teachings and emphasizes meditating upon Naam on almost every Ang (proper respectful term for “page”) of Aad Guru Granth Sahib, it cannot be imagined that such an important fundamental principle is not entirely expounded. Further, it would lead one to assert that Gurbani lacks unison in terms of Gurmantar. The only credible and plausible explanation is that in the Shabad both Raam and Sarangpaani are used as adjectives for Gurmantar. To understand this concept further, consider the following Shabad from Sukhmani Sahib.

ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਜੋ ਕਰਹਿ ਬੀਚਾਰ ॥ ਸੇ ਧਨਵੰਤ ਗਨੀ ਸੰਸਾਰ ॥

Those who reflect upon the Lord's Name are the most wealthy and prosperous in the world. (Ang 281)

If we interpret the verse literally then it means that one must reflect on the word Raam and not any other. If that was the case then in the same Shabad, other words like Har and Niranjan are also mentioned. We ask all those who stress on interpreting every Gurbani Shabad literally to explain to us why the word Raam should be picked over Har, Niranjan and all other names for that matter? And what names would they choose for verses that do not have any specific name mentioned in them. For example:

ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕਾ ਸਿਮਰਨੁ ਸਭ ਤੇ ਊਚਾ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਕੈ ਸਿਮਰਨਿ ਉਧਰੇ ਮੂਚਾ ॥

The remembrance of God is the highest and most exalted of all. In the remembrance of God, many are saved. (Ang 263)

ਮਿਲੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਗੋਬਿੰਦ ਅਪਨਾ ਨਾਮੁ ਦੇਹੁ ॥ ਨਾਮ ਬਿਨਾ ਧ੍ਰਿਗੁ ਧ੍ਰਿਗੁ ਅਸਨੇਹੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Meet me, O my Lord of the Universe. Please bless me with Your Name. Without the Naam, the Name of the Lord, cursed, cursed is love and intimacy. ||1||Pause|| (Ang 240)

The verses above lay emphasis on meditating upon Naam without identifying any specific Word. Any literal interpretation would leave one confused and perplexed over which word to pick and choose for meditation. The fact of the matter is that such attributive names are used as adjectives and this can be the only correct and proper way of interpreting and understanding Gurbani principles. Any other or literal interpretation leads to varied contradictory injunctions in Gurbani and goes against the unison of Gurbani principles.

The point we stress here is that literal interpretation is not always correct. It can be valid and correct only when it is in harmony with the rest of the Gurbani message. Each and every verse needs to be interpreted in light of its metaphorical and contextual settings while keeping the grammar rules in mind. Any delineation would lead to misinterpretation which would be nothing more than mere conjectures and hearsay. When Guru Gobind Singh Ji passed the Gurgaddi (Throne of Guruship) to Gurbani, he gave 52 injunctions to the Sikhs one of which was the Sikhs must study Gurbani recitation and interpretation from learned Sikhs.[23] This alone is sufficient to prove that literal interpretation alone is not acceptable to study Gurbani otherwise there was no need for Guru Sahib to give such an important injunction. Divine Revealed Gurbani can only be interpreted by practicing Sikhs who have experienced its mystical and spiritual depths. Since one needs proper education and training to acquire mastery in any worldly profession, so is the requirement to achieve proficiency in Gurbani. One cannot simply pick up a book, read it and claim to be a scholar. This would be a simple self-deceiving foolishness. To sum up our point, we quote Bhai Randhir Singh. He states:

In Gurbani words like “Har Har” and “Raam Naam” are adjectives for Gurmantar.[24]

Therefore, we conclude that all words and names that pertain to Waheguru are used as adjectives for Gurmantar which is the only revealed and chosen word in Gurmat for meditation. As to why Guru Sahib chose names such as Har, Raam, Gobind etc.; these names were commonly known to masses throughout India and without proper use of the local language and common names of God, the divinely revealed message would not have been appropriately understood by the people and it would have lost its appeal.

Before proceeding further, we would like to address a very important point concerning why Guru Sahib chose to emphasize Gurmantar for meditation implicitly rather than explicitly. No one can fully comprehend the doings of Guru Sahib for He is Omniscient, and a Sikh can only humbly submit to the teachings of Gurbani without having the right to object over why such and such method is used. However, this method has very subtle yet comprehensive reasons. It has already been proven that the Sikh community went through gradual development under which title of Satguru was passed to Gurbani and the authority to give Naam became vested in Punj Pyare. All of this was not circumstantial or based on time-driven events but fulfillment of the divinely ordained order of the Immortal Lord. Since the time of Guru Nanak Sahib, it had been preached and practiced by the Sikhs that Gurbani is the Guru. Guru Sahib fully knew that eventually the title of Guru would be officially passed on to Gurbani, the Word Incarnate, and the authority to initiate and give Naam to newcomers would be in the hands of collective body or the Punj Pyare.

Keeping this view in mind and in order to keep the sanctity and firmness of the established tradition, Guru Sahib deliberately kept Gurmantar secret and mentioned it implicitly lest anyone reading Gurbani mistakenly think that they had obtained Gurmantar. in other words, had it been explicitly mentioned in Gurbani that Waheguru is Gurmantar, it would have led some to fall astray in believing that they have obtained Gurmantar from Satguru (Gurbani) and have been initiated into Gurmat. This would have been damaging to not only the true path of Gurmat but also to the spiritual seekers because obtaining Naam is not merely obtaining Gurmantar but inclusive of learning meditative technique and all other injunctions absolutely required to attain the highest spiritual state. A community can only stay united and cohesive if it is bounded by same unified principles. Therefore, everyone must go through the same process to obtain Gurmantar and become a Sikh. One must be present in the presence of Guru Sahib in front of Punj Pyare and witness the preparation of Amrit and then be blessed by it while learning Sikh code of conduct and cardinal sins. One cannot learn the technique of meditation without learning it from Punj Pyare. Therefore, by keeping Gurmantar secret, Guru Sahib ensured that no one could negate His well-established tradition (the authority of Punj Pyare) and claim that they have obtained or learned Gurmantar from Gurbani directly.

From the above discussion, we conclude that it was a deliberate attempt of Guru Sahib to mention Gurmantar implicitly but a great care was taken to highlight it using attributive names repeatedly and exhaustively to ensure that a disciple did not remain in dark vis-à-vis its correct form. Such a step taken by Guru Sahib reveals His great wisdom and farsightedness. Since He knew that eventually the written scripture would be given the Guruship (authority of the Guru), it would have been unwise to explicitly state Gurmantar in its full form. This would have inadvertently damaged the concept of ‘Guru-Panth’ and vested authority of Guru Sahib in Punj Pyare.

There remains one minor point to be clarified vis-à-vis Gurmantar. One might ask why Sikhs (namely Bhai Gurdas Ji, Bhatts and Bhai Nand Lal Ji) could explicitly mention Gurmantar if Guru Sahib Himself did not consider it wise. The answer has already been explained. A Sikh does not have the authority to impart or teach Gurmantar to anyone. A Sikh always remains a Sikh and can never become a Satguru. This is why he can tell others what the Gurmantar is but this is not the same as teaching it or initiating a new disciple. For example, one can learn the syllabus of a particular class from a participating student without enrolling himself but until he goes through the official admission process, he cannot be considered a student of that class. Similarly, while studying Sikh Scriptures and historical works, one gets to learn about Gurmat and its principles but a mere study does not amount to initiation to the faith or becoming its disciple. Obtaining Gurmantar also means learning to meditate upon it along with all the dos and don’ts of a disciplined lifestyle. Simply reading it in Vaars or Rehatnamas does not mean one has officially obtained it. As stated before, the authority is only vested in Punj Pyare and not a single Sikh. This is why a Sikh can explicitly mention Gurmantar because such does not lead to initiation or imparting Naam.

Before concluding this section, it is pertinent to address a common misconception raised against Gurmantar by Hindus, especially Arya Samajists and its cohorts like RSS, who have always been at the forefront against the Sikh faith and its adherents. They state that Waheguru is only mentioned 13 times in Gurbani whereas name of their God ‘Raam’ (referring to Rama Chandra) is mentioned some 16,000 times which according to them glorifies their God and proves inferiority of Gurmantar. This argument is nothing but sheer ignorance and baseless propaganda. For Sikhs, any Kirtam/Karam name of God as explained below in the next section, regardless of how many times it is mentioned in Gurbani, is divine and holy and acquires same reverence as any other name. Therefore, it is futile quarreling over recurrence of one particular name in Gurbani. However, to dispel any misconception raised against Gurmat, we will certainly address this point as well. We could present not only one, but numerous quotes from Gurbani that reject Vishnu incarnate Rama Chandra being an exemplary person let alone God. In Gurbani, words ‘Raam’ and ‘Raam Chand’ are used for God to refer to His Omnipresence and also for incarnate Rama. However, in latter case the words are used only a handful of times. It is out of scope of this article to discuss every single instance Rama’s name is mentioned but it is sufficient enough to state that not a single case glorifies or praises Rama.

Even in Hinduism the word Raam is not exclusively used for Rama Chandra and there is evidence of its existence even prior to Rama’s birth. Vaalmick according to Hindu mythology authored Ramayan (biography of Rama) 10,000 years prior to Rama’s birth. He used to be a robber and a thug. Upon meeting a group of holy saints, he changed his lifestyle and obtained the word ‘Raam’ for meditation practicing which he became a holy saint. This proves that the word ‘Raam’ existed at least 10,000 years prior to Rama was born. Hence, Hindus asserting that ‘Raam’ in Gurbani is exclusively used for Rama Chandra is an empty claim for it cannot even be substantiated in the parameters of their own mythology. Since Gurbani is the revealed Word and free from contradictions, it is ludicrous to believe that Gurbani is rejecting Rama as an object of worship at one place and yet giving injunction to meditate upon his name at another place. Such varied and contradictory statements are abundant in Vedas and Puranas but not in Gurbani which stands on unshaken foundation of unified and consistent principles.

Taking the argument further, we have already proven in the last section that the word ‘Raam’ is used as an adjective for Gurmantar. Therefore, it is the word ‘Waheguru’ that is praised and glorified that many times. Now let us look at the number of occurrences of words, while overlooking their different grammatical forms. The words ‘Raam Chand’ in complete form appear only six times and are used for referring to Rama Chandra only three times in Gurbani. Compared to this, word ‘Waheguru’ in complete form appears 13 times and two times with slight variation. If we consider the abbreviated form, words ‘Raam’ and ‘Rama’, both combined are mentioned 2,046 times in Gurbani. However, in reference to Rama, the words are used very few times and not once is he praised. On the other hand, the Gurmantar in abbreviated form is mentioned as “Wah”, “Guru” and “Gur” repeatedly, giving us a total of 4,938 times. Therefore, whether we consider full name or short name, its recurrence is always less than Gurmantar. No matter how the argument is presented, it is easily dismantled and found to be unsubstantiated, ridiculous and irrational, time and time again.

To sum up, one cannot correctly understand Gurbani using interpretations from Hindu mythology. One may entertain one’s own whimsical and delusional ideas with such methodology but such persons will be far from the ideals and teachings of the Sikh tenets. In order to get correct picture of the Sikh religion, it must be understood within its own parameters and context. Much evidence has been presented earlier in this article to prove that words like Raam or Allah are used by Guru Sahib according to their viewpoint and definition of God. Therefore, the word ‘Raam’ must be understood as it is defined in Gurbani whilst totally excluding Hindu mythology. 

Meaning and Significance

Since Waheguru is the only word selected by Guru Sahib that is imparted to a new Sikh for meditation and practice, it by default becomes distinct and distinguished from other names of God. Just the mere fact that Guru Sahib chose this word over others is the very proof that it not only holds a special place in Gurbani but is also the only word fully capable of uniting the human soul with God. This alone should be enough for a Sikh to believe that this word is superior to all others and no other word is equal to it. However, since many names of God are mentioned in Gurbani, some Sikhs and non-Sikhs doubt its superiority and significance. They raise an objection that any word in Gurbani can be chosen for meditation but even this claim is as empty and hollow as all others. In this section, we discuss and explain why other names are not equal to Gurmantar.

In Gurbani, it is an accepted fact that God has countless names some of which are Raam, Gobind, Narayan, Hari etc. but each of these names pertain to one single attribute of God and none of these names fully explain and describe God. Consider the following meanings of some of the names:

Agochar – Transcendent God. This only refers to God’s transcendence and not His immanence.

Raam – God who is Omnipresent. This name does not describe other attributes like Omniscience and Omnipotence.

Gobind – This means (i) Sustainer, (ii) One who is obtained through true knowledge of the Guru and (iii) Omniscient. This does not describe the other attributes of God such as Loving and Blissful or that he is the Creator.

Gopal – Supporter of the earth. In a general sense, it means God who supports the entire world. This does not describe God as the Creator and Destroyer.

Narayan – Omnipresent God who resides within every heart. Just like Raam this word does not describe other attributes of God.

Karta – The Creator. This does not explain that God is Nirbhau (without fear) and Nirvair (free of hatred and vengeance).

The above few names and their meanings are sufficient enough to prove that each and every name explains only one quality or attribute of God and none of these names refer to God in complete sense. Waheguru is God’s personal name while all other names are Kirtam (attributive) and Karam (functional) names. Bhai Randhir Singh states that Gurmantar is the only original name of God that is assumed by Him while all other names came into being through human spiritual experience of God.[25]

In order to make this concept easily understandable, we use a simple example. Suppose there is a person named Hari Singh who is a doctor by profession. Hari Singh is a personal name which describes the person as a whole while being a doctor only pertains to one of his qualities. He may be a husband, a father, a philosopher, a historian or have any other quality for that matter but none of these functional names have the capacity to describe him as a whole. Similarly, some know God as a Creator, some as a Destroyer, some as a Mother, a Father, Transcendent, Immanent or Pure Love but none of these attributes describe Him completely. On the other hand, word Waheguru is inclusive of all attributes and refers to One Almighty God who is the only one power in the world and worthy of worship. It refers to the unchanging reality that is immanent in the creation yet transcending it at the same time and there is none like or equal to Him. Ganjinder Singh states:

The numerous names given to God by different religious orders have been extensively used in the Guru Granth Sahib, but His full definition and span is only contained in the expression, ‘WaheGuru.’. Other names of God describe only His limited functionality and therefore are not conclusive.[26]

Waheguru is the personal name of God for a very specific reason. The word is not plural, masculine or feminine, and does not and never did pertain to any prophet, person, messenger or deity. It is not an attributive name either nor a verb. It is a proper noun and inclusive of all attributes. In terms of its meaning, it is a combination of two words, Wah and Guru. Wah means Wonderful Immaculate Exalted Lord who is indescribable, ineffable, infinite in essence, power and wisdom, and beyond the limits of human comprehension. One can only experience Him and be wonder struck and amazed by Him which is called the state of Vismaad (Wonderfulness). Nothing but Wah is more suitable for this reason. The second word is Guru which itself is a combination of GU (darkness) and RU (light) meaning that Guru is the light (true knowledge) that dispels darkness (ignorance). Thus, the meaning of Waheguru is: One Wonderful Exalted Supreme Reality, who is beyond all limits and can be obtained only through the True Guru. In other words, without Satguru there is no power in the world that can unite an individual soul with Almighty God. Granted that everything that a Sikh possesses from materialistic wealth to spiritual and miraculous powers are also nothing but a blessing of the True Guru, still such achievements can be made through other means. One can accumulate wealth by resorting to robbery, theft and coercion; and one can achieve spiritual merits of performing miracles through practicing Yoga, chanting mantras or meditating upon any attributive name of God. However, salvation or unity with God is not possible without becoming a true disciple of the Satguru. For this reason, God’s personal name is Waheguru because achieving Him is not possible without the Guru.

Describing superiority of Waheguru, Bhai Veer Singh states:

Waheguru is the most superior name and takes one to the original state uniting with God that is ineffable. Being capable to taking one to the Mansion of the Lord, the true Primal Name is Waheguru.[27]

Kavi Santokh Singh in his monumental work GurPartap Sooraj Parkash writes:

ਸਤਿਨਾਮ ਮੰਤ੍ਰਨਿ ਸਿਰਮੌਰ। ਜਿਸ ਕੇ ਸਮ ਜਗ ਮਹਿਂ ਨਹਿਂ ਔਰ ॥੪॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਇਹੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਮਹਾਨਾ। ਚਤੁਰ ਵਰਨ ਕੋ ਜੋੜਨਿ ਠਾਨਾ।

Satnam mantar (Word) is superior to all mantras and none other is equal to it. Waheguru mantar is great and unites the entire humanity.[28]

The brief discussion above is more than enough to prove that Waheguru is the only True Name of God. This repudiates the assertion made by some that all names are equal. Some quote the following pankti (verse) from Gurbani as an objection:

ਬਲਿਹਾਰੀ ਜਾਉ ਜੇਤੇ ਤੇਰੇ ਨਾਵ ਹੈ ॥੪॥੨॥

I am a sacrifice to Your Names, as many as there are, O Lord. ||4||2|| (Ang 1168)

The entire Shabad from which the verse is quoted describes Him as an infinite being with infinite names and qualities. Guru Sahib states that He is sacrificed to all of His names because each and every one of them pertains to one attribute of the Divine Being. Although this proves that all names of God are holy and divine, it does not prove that all are equal or it is acceptable to replace Waheguru or to meditate upon any other name in place of Waheguru. As explained before, Waheguru is inclusive of all attributes of God. Furthermore, as explained in the previous section, Waheguru is referred to as ‘Satnaam’ or True Name in Gurbani and Vaars. Had all names been equal in power and merit, Satnaam would never have been used as an adjective for Gurmantar alone. This is why the only word that is capable of granting salvation is Waheguru.

Some gullible Sikhs quote a particular Shabad from Gurbani to show that Guru Sahib instructs to chant any name one wishes. The Shabad quoted is below:

ਰਾਮਕਲੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥

ਕੋਈ ਬੋਲੈ ਰਾਮ ਰਾਮ ਕੋਈ ਖੁਦਾਇ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਸੇਵੈ ਗੁਸਈਆ ਕੋਈ ਅਲਾਹਿ ॥੧॥

ਕਾਰਣ ਕਰਣ ਕਰੀਮ ॥ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਧਾਰਿ ਰਹੀਮ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

ਕੋਈ ਨਾਵੈ ਤੀਰਥਿ ਕੋਈ ਹਜ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਕਰੈ ਪੂਜਾ ਕੋਈ ਸਿਰੁ ਨਿਵਾਇ ॥੨॥

ਕੋਈ ਪੜੈ ਬੇਦ ਕੋਈ ਕਤੇਬ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਓਢੈ ਨੀਲ ਕੋਈ ਸੁਪੇਦ ॥੩॥

ਕੋਈ ਕਹੈ ਤੁਰਕੁ ਕੋਈ ਕਹੈ ਹਿੰਦੂ ॥ ਕੋਈ ਬਾਛੈ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਕੋਈ ਸੁਰਗਿੰਦੂ ॥੪॥

ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਜਿਨਿ ਹੁਕਮੁ ਪਛਾਤਾ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਕਾ ਤਿਨਿ ਭੇਦੁ ਜਾਤਾ ॥੫॥੯॥

Raamkalee, Fifth Mehla:

Some call Him, 'Raam, Raam', and some call Him, 'Khudaa-i'. Some serve Him as 'Gusain', others as 'Allaah'. ||1||

He is the Cause of causes, the Generous Lord. He showers His Grace and Mercy upon us. ||1||Pause||

Some bathe at sacred shrines of pilgrimage, and some make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Some perform devotional worship services, and some bow their heads in prayer. ||2||

Some read the Vedas, and some the Koran. Some wear blue robes, and some wear white. ||3||

Some call themselves Muslim, and some call themselves Hindu. Some yearn for paradise, and others long for heaven. ||4||

Says Nanak, one who realizes the Hukam of God's Will, knows the secrets of his Lord and Master. ||5||9||

In the Shabad above, Guru Sahib is not issuing instruction to chant any name. Rather, He is giving a brief account of people following different ways in an attempt to reach their end goals. In Ashtpadi 10 of Sukhmani Sahib, Guru Sahib provides a similar account in which He explains how countless beings are engaged in different worldly and spiritual pursuits using different methods. However, if one draws the conclusion that Guru Sahib is instructing Sikhs to follow the same pursuits, it would be wholly wrong and against the teachings of Gurmat. On similar lines, in Pauri 18 of Jap Ji Sahib, Guru Sahib gives account of many sinful people and misdeeds they commit but it would be wrong of anyone to misinterpret the Pauri to conclude that Guru Sahib is instructing us to perform such misdeeds and sinful activities. It is simply a brief account of God’s vast creation in which there are religious and sinful people doing good and bad deeds. Similarly, the Shabad under discussion gives a limited account of various ways being followed by people to attain salvation but Guru Sahib rejects all these in the last couplet by stating that only one can attain union with God who realizes God’s Hukam (Will) and learns to live according to His Will: both of which require seeking sanctuary of Satguru and submitting to His principles in every respect.

The Shabad explains that some chant “Raam Raam” and some “Khuda” etc. but it does not mean that Guru Sahib is giving an injunction to chant any of these names. If one assumes that Guru Sahib is giving injunction to chant Raam or Khuda then on the same line of thought one will also have to assume that the Shabad gives the injunction to bathe at Hindu holy places, read Vedas (Hindu practices), perform hajj, and read Semitic books (Islamic practices) all of which are very explicitly rejected throughout Gurbani. Such an assumption leads to the mistaken assertion that Gurbani principles lack unison and are inconsistent. Further, it leads one to believe that Gurbani has no distinct teaching of its own. Such a claim would be preposterous and ludicrous. If going on pilgrimages, reading the Vedas and Quran and going to hajj is endorsed in the Shabad, then why are such practices rejected elsewhere in many Shabads of Gurbani?  Why did Guru Sahib not specifically state the name of the Hindu holy place where Sikhs must go to perform this practice? Reading the Shabad carefully reveals that Guru Sahib is not endorsing such practices, but rather presenting an account of futile deeds performed by Hindus and Muslims in the name of religion. In couplet 4, the Shabad amply points out that some call themselves Hindus and some Muslims who wish for heaven and paradise respectively. In the last couplet, both religions are rejected while upholding Gurmat as the true way that one who realizes Hukam of God alone attains Him. Realization of Hukam is not possible without Satguru.

This viewpoint is not only echoed by eminent scholar Bhai Randhir Singh but he furthers this by exploring the meanings of the Shabad in light of Gurbani grammar. Unlocking the secret of unique grammatical rules and structure of Gurbani, he states that all the verbs ਬੋਲੈ, ਸੇਵੈ, ਨਾਵੈ and ਕਰੈ in the Shabad have ‘dulaavan’ (ੈ) which means that a present tense account of deeds performed by Hindus and Muslims is provided in first four couplets of the Shabad. In other words, the form of the verb does not endorse Gurmat teaching otherwise ‘dulaavan’ would have been replaced by ‘laanv’ (ੇ) and the verbs would have been in the form of ਬੋਲੇ, ਸੇਵੇ, ਨਾਵੇ and ਕਰੇ which would have introduced contradictions in Gurbani and destroyed its unison.[29]

If Guru Sahib wanted Sikhs to meditate upon any name, His instruction would have been very explicit and He would have provided a very broad list of all the names. Such is not the case here and the following two reasons provide further explanation: Firstly, no list regardless of its length could capture all of God’s names. This would lead Sikhs to the false conclusion that any name not part of the list could not be God’s name and hence, God’s names are limited. Secondly, it would have rendered the fundamental requirement of adopting Satguru to obtain Naam useless as anyone could whimsically choose any name thinking that doing so would lead to salvation. This would have been entirely against the teachings of Guru Sahib which requires one to submit completely for the blessings of Naam. Gurbani says:

ਤਨੁ ਮਨੁ ਧਨੁ ਸਭੁ ਸਉਪਿ ਗੁਰ ਕਉ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਮੰਨਿਐ ਪਾਈਐ ॥

Surrender body, mind, wealth, and everything to the Guru; obey the Order of His Will, and you will find Him. (Ang 918)

ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਭਾਣੈ ਚਲੁ ॥

O my mind, walk in command of the True Guru. (Ang 37)

This means that in order to obtain Naam, one does not get to pick and choose but has to humbly submit to the command of the Guru and meditate only upon the Naam that is given to him or her. Furthermore, the message of Gurbani is free of contradictions and varied instructions. Since it identifies obtaining Naam from Satguru as the first step on the path of true way of life, it is ludicrous to even suggest that Gurbani fails to point out to one single name to be meditated upon by providing a choice to the disciple to pick any name. Satguru does not give varied injunctions to different disciples at different times but the same universal principles are given to all. Since Gurbani is revealed, its injunctions stand on foundation of unified principles. Consider the following couplet:

ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਨਾਮਿ ਰਤੇ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਨਾਮੁ ਸਲਾਹੀਐ ਦੂਜਾ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥੧॥ਰਹਾਉ॥

O my mind, attuned to the Naam, you shall find peace. Praise the Name obtained from Guru's Teachings; there is no other at all. ||1||Pause|| (Ang 38)

The above couplet is very clear that only Naam obtained from Satguru (ਗੁਰਮਤੀ ਨਾਮੁ) should be praised and practiced. Commenting on this couplet, Bhai Randhir Singh writes:

 Reciting only Gurmat Naam is fruitful. It is not that any other name can be meditated.[30]

Since the first step in becoming a disciple of Satguru requires full submission, it does not leave any room for picking and choosing because this would require one to follow his own instincts and mind’s advice. In Gurbani, following the mind is called “manmat” and carries a deeply negative connotation, whereas following Satguru is called “Gurmat” and is encouraged throughout Gurbani. This proves that having freedom to choose any name for meditation not only goes against the need of having a Satguru, but also renders every other Divine principle useless because one can select what to follow and what not to follow.  Before the advent of Guru Nanak Sahib, people were already engaged in superstitions, rituals, idol worship and wandering in darkness by following false religions like Hinduism and Islam, which lacked the divine guidance of a Satguru. Asserting that Gurbani leaves the matter up to the individual to decide would mean that Gurbani gave no new injunctions, but affirmed people following their whimsical thinking and same old barbaric paths. Such a ridiculous claim makes advent of Satguru and revelation of Gurbani purposeless. Consider the following few verses from Gurbani that specifically state to meditate on Gurmantar and not any other mantra or name.

ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਚਿਤਾਰਿ ॥ ਸੁਖੁ ਪਾਵਹਿ ਸਾਚੈ ਦਰਬਾਰਿ ॥੪॥੩੨॥੧0੧॥

Says Nanak, remember the GurMantra; you shall find peace at the True Court. ||4||32||101|| (Ang 186)

ਦੁਖੁ ਕਲੇਸੁ ਨ ਭਉ ਬਿਆਪੈ ਗੁਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਹਿਰਦੈ ਹੋਇ ॥

Suffering, agony and fear do not cling to one whose heart is filled with the GurMantra. (Ang 51)

ਮੈ ਅਉਖਧੁ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਦੀਜੈ ਗੁਰ ਪੂਰੇ ਮੈ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮਿ ਉਧਰੀਐ ਜੀਉ ॥੩॥

So give me the medicine, the Mantra of the Perfect Guru. Through the Name of the Lord, Har, Har, I am saved. ||3|| (Ang 95)

In the above three quotes, three statements are clear (i) Gurmantar is capable of salvation (ii) Gurmantar is the medicine that cures all diseases (spiritual and physical) (iii) Gurmantar is mantra (Word) of the True Perfect Guru. The instruction to meditate upon Gurmantar makes it unequivocally distinct from all other names and eliminates any notion that Gurbani gives the freedom to an individual to pick and choose any mantra. Gurmantar is not just any word but the Word obtained from Satguru. This makes it superior. Recitation of any other mantra is rejected in Gurbani. For this reason, the only acceptable mantra in Gurbani is written distinctly as “Gur Mantar”, “Har Mantar”, “True Mantar” etc. Reciting Gurmantar only is also advocated by Bhai Gurdas Ji, Rehatnamas and Sikh scholars.

Bhai Gurdas Ji states:

ਧ੍ਰਿਗ ਜਿਹਬਾ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦ ਵਿਣੁ ਹੋਰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਸਿਮਰਣੀ॥

Fie on that tongue, which remembers mantras other than the Guru-mantra. (Bhai Gurdas, Vaar 27, Pauri 10).

Bhai Prehlaad Singh in his Rehatnama states:

ਥਾਪ ਚਲਯੋ ਜੋ ਜਗਤ ਮੇ ਤਿਨਹਿ ਨਿਵਾਵਹੁ ਮਾਥ ॥ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ ਕੇ ਮੰਤ੍ਰ ਬਿਨ, ਮਿਥਿਆ ਸਾਰੀ ਗਾਥ ॥

That which has been installed in this world (Guru Granth Sahib Ji), bow your head in respect. Without the ‘Waheguru’ mantar, life’s whole saga is false.[31]

Bhai Randhir Singh states:

Freedom of reciting just any name of God is not acceptable in Gurmat.[32]

Therefore, Gurbani does not endorse chanting any name but rather in a subtle way identifies the Gurmantar as the only true name for meditation which is obtained from Satguru. From our discussion, one must not fall victim to the misconception that all other names are useless or unworthy. Eliminating such misconception, Bhai Randhir Singh states:

Kirtam names cannot be compared to ‘Satnaam’ but meditating upon them is still much more fruitful and meritorious than performing various rituals and practicing other philosophies.[33]

Although all Kirtam names are meritorious and divine, none are equal to Gurmantar - the only name given by Guru Sahib to the Sikhs for contemplative meditation at the time of initiation and the only name that can deliver salvation.

Waheguru: Named or Nameless

Before concluding this article, there remains one minor point that needs to be addressed. In Dasam Granth Sahib (compositions of Guru Gobind Singh Ji), God is referred to as being ‘Anaam’. Some Sikh and non-Sikh scholars rely on literal interpretation of the word ‘Anaam’ falsely assume that it means ‘Nameless’, and therefore, Gurmantar is not a name of God. However, such a false assertion is the result of misinterpretation and lacks correct understanding of Gurmat theology. Let us look at just one example from Jaap Sahib.

ਨਮਸਤੰ ਅਨਾਮੰ ॥ ਨਮਸਤੰ ਅਧਾਮੰ ॥੫॥

I bow to the One who's nameless. I bow to the One who's homeless.[34]

The above translation, commonly adopted by many scholars is not correct because the term ‘homeless’ denotes God being without any dwelling place.

In order to correctly understand the implied meanings, we will start from the end and go backwards. First, let us consider the word ਅਧਾਮੰ which is incorrectly translated as ‘homeless’. Nowhere in Gurbani has Guru Sahib ever mentioned God being homeless. Contrarily, right from the beginning of Gurbani to the end, God has been constantly referred to as Omnipresent with names like Ape Aap, Hadra Hadur, Sarab-Biapi, Sarab-Nivasi, Sarbatr Ramnang, Bharpur. This implies that God dwells everywhere and every spot in the entire creation is filled with God’s presence. There is not a single verse in Gurbani that unambiguously describe Him as ‘homeless’.

Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who was the same spirit as the rest of the Gurus and who fulfilled the mission started by Guru Nanak Sahib by giving a Sikh the identity of a Khalsa, was well-versed with Gurbani and Sikh principles. He was the successor of the House of Guru Nanak Sahib because He was its true proponent. Thus, He could never write anything against the tenets of Gurbani. It would be foolish to assume that His explanation of God is wholly different from His predecessors. Dr. Sher Singh states:

It is absolutely wrong to think that Guru Gobind Singh adopted a philosophy and preached a way of life which was different from what Guru Nanak had preached and that it was inconsistent with the teachings of the Gurus as contained in the Adi Granth….Guru Gobind Singh carried only a step further the mission which Guru Nanak set before himself and the other Gurus and he upheld the same old traditions although in a more clear crystal form.[35]

It is equally ridiculous to assert that Guru Gobind Singh Ji calls God ‘homeless’ when Gurbani is clearly describing God as Omnipresent. Further, upon study of Jaap Sahib in its entirety, it becomes quite evident that Guru Sahib also refers to God as Omnipresent by calling Him ਸਮਸਤੁਲ ਨਿਵਾਸੀ (samastul nivasi) and ਸਮਸਤਸਤੁ ਧਾਮੰ (samastast(u) dhaman). Therefore, calling God ‘homeless’ not only introduces contradictions within Jaap Sahib but also brings it in direct contrast with Gurbani. Those who interpret ਅਧਾਮੰ as ‘homeless’ clearly fail to consider the global context of the composition and pay no attention to the fact that the entire composition of the Guru has to be free of contradictions and variability.

In light of the above reasons, words like ਅਧਾਮੰ need to be carefully interpreted and translated to ensure that the meaning conforms to the rest of the composition. In Dasam Granth Sahib, Guru Sahib uses two methods to describe the same quality or attribute of God: affirmative and negation. The affirmative method emphasizes God’s Immanence while the negation method describes His Transcendence. The affirmative method explicitly describes God being everywhere while the negation method describes God not being limited to or by creation. God’s Omnipresence makes it clear that He is not limited to just one place (the creation). This way Guru Sahib emphasizes the fact that God is always Transcendent while being Immanent. Though He is ਸਮਸਤੁਲ ਨਿਵਾਸੀ (Omnipresent) but at the same time He is also ਅਧਾਮੰ (not limited to one particular place). Therefore the correct interpretation of the word ਅਧਾਮੰ is that God does not have one particular dwelling place.

The above discussion makes it much easier to interpret the word ਅਨਾਮੰ on the same lines. Hence, God being ਅਨਾਮੰ means not being limited to just one particular name. In other words, as explained in earlier sections, God having infinite attributes has infinite names. Therefore, He is not limited to one name. This interpretation is echoed by eminent scholar, Prof. Sahib Singh. In his commentary of Jaap Sahib, he gives the following interpretation of the couplet under discussion:

ਹੇ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ! ਤੈਨੂੰ ਨਮਸਕਾਰ ਹੈ, ਤੇਰਾ ਕੋਈ ਇਕ ਨਾਮ ਨਹੀਂ ਅਤੇ ਤੇਰਾ ਕੋਈ ਇਕ ਘਰ ਨਹੀਂ ਹੈ।[36]

O Lord ! I bow to you, you do not have one particular name and you do not have one particular dwelling place.

In other words, Waheguru is not limited to just one name or one place. He is infinite and therefore, has infinite names. Pandit Narayan Singh in his translation of Dasam Granth Sahib has also interpreted the verse in the same way. Another notable expert in Gurbani Grammar, Bhai Joginder Singh Talwara, interprets the same couplet as follows:

ਨਮਸਤੰ ਅਨਾਮੰ ॥

ਹੇ (ਕਿਸੇ ਵਿਸ਼ੇਸ਼) ਨਾਮ ਤੋਂ ਰਹਿਤ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ! ਤੈਨੂੰ ਨਮਸਕਾਰ ।

O’ God without any particular name! I pay obeisance to you.

ਨਮਸਤੰ ਅਧਾਮੰ ॥੫॥

ਹੇ (ਕਿਸੇ ਵਿਸ਼ੇਸ਼) ਘਰ ਤੋਂ ਰਹਿਤ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ! ਤੈਨੂੰ ਨਮਸਕਾਰ ।

O’ God without any particular dwelling place! I pay obeisance to you.[37]

The interpretations presented above are fully in consonance with the rest of the composition; for example in the opening Shabad of Jaap Sahib, Guru Sahib states:

ਤਵ ਸਰਬ ਨਾਮ ਕਥੈ ਕਵਨ ਕਰਮ ਨਾਮ ਬਰਨਤ ਸੁਮਤਿ ॥੧॥

O Lord! Who has the capacity to state all of your names or describe you completely? The wise and pure hearted have described your functional names based on their experiences.

It is unambiguously clear from the opening Shabad of the composition alone, that God has innumerable names and no one can completely describe all of them. This makes it explicitly clear that God is not limited to just one particular name. The remaining composition describes some functional names of God. To assert that the word ਅਨਾਮੰ means ‘nameless’ is equivalent to stating that Guru Sahib contradicted Himself. The One with infinite names cannot be nameless. This is self-contradictory and illogical. Gurbani states:

ਤੇਰੇ ਨਾਮ ਅਨੇਕਾ ਰੂਪ ਅਨੰਤਾ ਕਹਣੁ ਨ ਜਾਹੀ ਤੇਰੇ ਗੁਣ ਕੇਤੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥

Your Names are so many, and Your Forms are endless. No one can tell how many Glorious attributes You have. ||1||Pause|| (Ang 358)

To assert that God has no name is equivalent to stating that God has no attributes. Such a thought is against the tenets of Gurbani because God is described in Gurbani as possessing countless wonderful and divine attributes.

The detailed discussion provided in this section eliminates all doubts that God is not described as either ‘homeless’ or ‘nameless’ by any of the Gurus. On the contrary, He is constantly and continuously described as being infinite in both attributes and names, as well as being omnipresent. He is everywhere but not limited to any one particular name or place. Therefore, in Gurmat, God has infinite names, of which ‘Waheguru’ is the most superior and sublime of all.


Gurmantar is an essential part of Sikh way of life. It is obtained from Satguru only. Plainly stated, the Gurmantar in Gurmat is Waheguru. It is called Satnaam exclusively and referred to with adjectives such as Naam, Har Har, Gur Gur, and Wah Wah. Other attributive names of God like Raam, Hari, Gobind, Gopal, Allah, Rahim, Karim, Khudah etc. are also used as adjectives in praise of Gurmantar. Just like every word of Gurbani, the Gurmantar also owes its origin to Almighty God. It is not derived from any other word, nor is it a combination of different names of God. It is the only personal name of God that is inclusive of all attributes. Hence, the Gurmantar is the only word that Gurbani instructs to recite and meditate upon. Every Sikh submitting to the command of Satguru must practice none other but the Gurmantar as it is the only way to achieve salvation and unity with God.


[1]. Kohli, Surindar Singh. Guru Granth Sahib Speaks: Naam vol. 2. PDF file, p. 52.

[2]. Ibid p. 53

[3]. Nabha, Kahan Singh.  Gurmat Maartand vol. 1. Amritsar: SGPC, 2005. Print, p. 378

[4]. Singh, Trilochan. The Turban and the Sword of the Sikhs. Ed. Anurag Singh. 3rd ed. Amritsar: Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh, 2005. Print, p. 98

[5]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Gurmat Naam Abhiyaas Kamayee. 10th ed. Ludhiana: Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Trust, 1994. Print, p. 148

[6]. Gandhi, Surjit Singh. Sikhs in the Eighteenth Century. PDF file, p. 7

[7]. Banerjee, Anil Chandra. The Sikh Gurus and the Sikh Religion. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1983. Print, pp. 310-11.

[8]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Gurmat Naam Abhiyaas Kamayee. op. cit., p. 144

[9]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Naam Tay Naam Da Daata Satguru. 3rd ed. Ludhiana: Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Trust, 1994. Print, p. 24

[10]. Santokh Singh, Kavi. GurPartap Sooraj Parkash vol 1. Trans. Dr. Ajit Singh Aulakh. Amritsar: Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh, 2003. Print, p. 22

[11]. Nand Lal Ji, Bhai. Rehatnama. Rehatnamay. Ed. Piara Singh Padam. 6th ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1995. Print, pp.55-56

[12]. Desa Singh Ji, Bhai. Rehatnama. Rehatnamay. Ed. Piara Singh Padam. 6th ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1995. Print, pp. 128-137

[13]. Sikh Rehat Maryada, Amritsar: SGPC. Print, p. 8

[14]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. op. cit., p. 11

[15]. Veer Singh, Bhai. Vaaran Bhai Gurdas Ji. New Delhi: Bhai Veer Singh Sahit Sadan, 1999. Print, pp. 40-44

[16]. Verma, Sharad Chandra. Guru Nanak and The Logos Of Divine Manifestations. Delhi: D. G. P. C., 1969. Print, p. 6.

[17]. Singh, Gajinder. A God Made to Order. Mohali: Ms Manbir G Singh, 2006. Print, p. 114

[18]. Rohi, Rajinder Kaur. Semitic and Sikh Monotheism: A Comparative Study. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1999. Print, p.105

[19]. Singh, Sher. Philosophy of Sikhism. 2nd Ed. Jullundur: Sterling Publishers, 1966. Print, p. 154

[20]. Bhai Randhir Singh. op. cit., p. 86

[21]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Gurbani Diyan Laggan Maatran Di VIlakhanta. 3rd ed. Ludhiana: Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Trust, 2003. Print, p. 55-56

[22] Singh, Trilochan. Ibid., p. 213

[23]. Singh, Balwinder. Kalgidhar Ji De 52 Bachan. 2nd ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1996. Print, p.33-36

[24]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Naam Tay Naam Da Daata Satguru. op. cit., p. 66

[25]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Naam Tay Naam Da Daata Satguru. op. cit., p. 10

[26]. Singh, Gajinder. op. cit., p. 116

[27]. Veer Singh, Bhai.  Amar Lekh.  Amritsar: Khalsa Samachar, 1967. PDF file, p. 29

[28]. Santokh Singh, Kavi. GurPartap Sooraj Parkash. PDF file, Rut 3, Ansu 35, p. 326

[29]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Gurbani Diyan Laggan Maatran Di VIlakhanta. op. cit., p. 444

[30]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Gurmat Naam Abhiyaas Kamayee. op. cit., p. 106

[31]. Prehlaad Singh Ji, Bhai. Rehatnama. Rehatnamay. Ed. Piara Singh Padam. 6th ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1995. Print, pp. 65-68

[32]. Randhir Singh, Bhai. Naam Tay Naam Da Daata Satguru. op. cit., p. 30

[33]. Ibid p. 12

[34]. Neki, Jaswant Singh. Basking in the Divine Presence. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2008. Print, p. 26

[35]. Sher Singh, Dr. Social and Political Philosophy of Guru Gobind Singh. Jullundur: Sterling Publishers, 1967. Print, pp. 81-82.

[36]. Sahib Singh, Prof. Jaap Sahib Steek. 17th ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2003. Print, p.39

[37]. Joginder Singh Talwara, Bhai. Nit-Nem Saral Steek. 1st ed. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1996. Print, p. 98.