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Guru Gobind Singh's Literary Activities

Guru Gobind Singh's literary heritage was very rich. Right from Guru Nanak, all the Gurus were literary luminaries themselves and the lovers of learning. Their contribution to the literary world was invaluable. The poetic compositions which they produced and which are incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib are eloquent testimony to the high level of their literary skill. Guru Gobind Singh inherited this tradition, moulded it to suit his purpose and enriched it with his own compositions besides encouraging many poets and scholars to come forward with their compositions. In fact the Gurus, much more Guru Gobind Singh, employed literature to the service of mankind. With its help they tried hard to shape the psyche of the people to enable them face the challenges for all times to come. Guru Gobind Singh himself has given indication of his objective in one of the stanzas of Krishna Avtar. He says :

"I have rendered in the vernacular the tenth chapter of the Bhagwat with no other purpose than to arouse desire for a holy war. (a righteous war of the Lord).”[1]

Quite a large number of compositions were produced by the Guru himself and many were produced by the court poets or writers at the Guru's instance.

It is said that at Anandpur and Paonta, 99 poets and scholars worked under his direct inspirations and encouragement.[2] They produced literature covering a wide range of topics, forms and thoughts. Although the bulk of literature was, in fact, the reproduction and recreation of the past heroic characters, its possible aim was to bring alive whatever vital was lying dormant in our social consciousness. This is why it exuded optimism. Yet there is no greater fallacy than to assume that the literature produced by the court poets of the Guru was confined to uphold the aforesaid theme only. They in fact, wrote and translated works on varied themes including state-craft and personal frailties of human beings and state matters. But certainly no work dampened the spirit or spread the gloom.

These men of letters formed an integral part of the establishment of the Guru. They discussed, deliberated, analysed and evaluated in an atmosphere of freedom and fearlessness. They provided leadership to the people in the domain of thoughts and shaped their opinion too. Himself a great thinker and builder, the Guru rarely missed any opportunity to attend their meets and was always anxious to accredit them. The whole thing looked like Plato's academy wherein each scholar was engaged in the pursuit of truth. To ensure that they are not distracted by the financial hardships, each one of the 126 scholars was paid handsomely.[3] The Guru loved men of arts and men of letters and he spared no pains to assemble them at Anandpur.[4]

As the tradition goes and as the contemporary and semi­-contemporary records aver, a good number of compositions of the court poets were compiled in the form of a Granth known as Vidya Sagar. The compositions of the tenth Guru were also compiled in a separate volume.

These books were lost during the crossing of River Sirsa which was then spate, after the Guru and his entourage had evacuated Anandgarh and were on their way to Chamkaur. The Guru made attempts to collect his lost compositions, the copies of which, it was hoped, were in possession of his devoted disciples. But he could not achieve results due to short span of time for which he was destined to live after the Battle of Muktsar.

The task of reproducing the works of Guru Gobind Singh was undertaken seriously after his death by his companion and disciple, Bhai Mani Singh. He worked constantly for about a decade on this project and finished it in 1721 or in 1726. He was able to get some copies from the Guru's Sikhs and other followers and filled the blanks from his memory.

After the Sirsa episode, the Guru, however, did not give up his interest in literary activities. He arranged literary workshop—One in the Lakhi Jungle[5], in which quite a large number of poets and writers participated and the other at Talwandi Sabo where a galaxy of scholars and poets gathered and were stimulated to create compositions to set in motion the process of the mass-awakening. A lot of literature was created there and circulated. Arrangements were also made to impart education to the people. Sukha Singh, the author of Gurbilas Patshahi 10, says that in addition to the extension of patronage to the scholars and writers, the Guru encouraged the people to study at the Ashram.[6]

Dasam Granth—A Compendium of Guru Gobind Singh's Compositions

It is not possible to give exact details of the compositions of Guru Gobind Singh because much was lost to the future generations owing to political turmoil that the Guru had to face. However, Dasam Granth is, in fact a collection of different compositions ascribed to the Guru. A brief account of these compositions is as under:

1. Jaap

199 verses

2. Akal Ustat (incomplete)

271 ½ verses

3. Bachittar Natak


4. Chandi Charittar, Ukt Bilas

262 verses

5. Chandi Charittar

233 verses

6. Var Sri Bhagauti Ji

55 verses

7. Chaubis Avtar of Vishnu


8. Mehdi Avtar

5297 verses

9. Brahma Avtars

343 verses

10. Rudra Avtars

498 verses

11. Gyan Prabodh (incomplete)

336 verses

12. Shabad Hazare

12 verses

13. Swayyas

33 verses

14. Shastra Nam Mala


15. Triya Charitra Pakhyan

7046 verses

16. Zafarnama

111 verses

17. Hakayat

757 verses

Total Number of verses in Dasam Granth are 17,377.

Dr. Trilochan Singh has classified the works of Guru Gobind Singh under the following heads :

  1. Philosophical works comprising Jaap Sahib, Akal Ustat, Gyan Prabodh, Swayyas, Shabad Hazare.
  2. Historical works and literature of power. Under this head Dr. Trilochan Singh includes Bachittar Natak, Chaubis Avtar of Vishnu, Mehdi Avtar, Avtars of Brahma and Rudra. Triya Charitra Pakhyan, Zafarnama, Hakayat, Chandi Charittra, all three versions, Shastar Nam Mala.


This is the introductory invocation of the Granth and is a part of daily regimen of Sikh prayer. It contains 199 verses. It was composed before 1699. Because it was one of the compositions recited at the time of the Sikh baptismal ceremony on the Baisakhi day of 1699. It has been written after the manner of Vishnu Sahsar Nama, a composition which forms a part of Sikkand Puran. As in Vishnu Sahsar Nama, thousands names of Vishnu which bring out his different attributes have been given, similarly Jaap was composed to supply to the Sikhs with similar number of epithets of the Creator. According to C.H. Loehlin, there are actually about 950 names in the Jaap. In most of the 199 verses, God has been described in negative terms. Among 950 names, there are seventy-five names used in Muslim scriptures, only a few of these being Rahim, Karim, Razak (Nourisher), Arun (Pardoner), Salamai (Peaceful), Allah, Nirsharik, Husnul-chirag, Gharibul-Niwaz, Kamal-Karim, Rajual- Rahim, Bhishtul-Niwas and many others.

A scrutiny of the names of God would lead us to conclude that He was everything to the Guru. He is a negative as well as a positive force. Every activity is his activity and everything in this world is His own projection and manifestation. Everything is not God, yet he is in everything. He has no form or feature, no caste or image, beyond description, incomprehensible, having no sign, mark or garb. God of Guru Gobind Singh is no particular entity giving rise to social particularism. He is absolute, infinite, signless, formless-all sparks (Jyoti) lights.

He 'is all, in all and for all.'

The Jaap being an invocation of the Ultimate Reality is placed in the stotra poetic form. All the verses are in the form of rhymed couplets and the metres and the words used are the most expressive and most appropriate. The metre known as Bhujang Prayat Chhand has frequently been used by the Guru in this composition. Besides Bhujang Prayat, other metres like Rual(i), Ek Acchari, Bhagwati have also been used.

Akal Ustat (Praises of the Timeless)

Akal Ustat is one of the best works of the Guru both from the point of view of subject-matter and literary qualities. Akal Ustat means 'Praises of the Immortal'. This composition is undoubtedly a creation of the Guru himself. The Guru envisions God as supreme in all respects, uses all types of epithets to praise Him. One can find negative as well as positive epithets but the crucial theme always remains the same i.e. God is all powerful and supreme. The new thing which strikes one while scrutinising the composition is that God has been addressed as Sarbloh—All steel, Sarb Kal, All Death, Mahaloh—Great steel, Kharagketu—having a sword as a sign on His banner.

In Akal Ustat the Guru touches varied topics. He makes copious use of Indian mythology but mythological figures and events in his hands are transformed into living characters engaged in the work of raising the true spirit according to the plans of the Guru. He is careful lest he is misunderstood as upholder of Hindu practices, and this being so, he strikes upon them with extraordinary force and vigour. The Guru also touches upon the topic of religion in this composition. His religion is the religion of Nam. It is absurd to say that he strives to nationalise God or religion. He clearly and vehemently opposes the idea of the chosen people or a blessed nation.

The Arab of Arabia, The French of France.

The Quareshies of Qandhar meditate on thy Name.

In the Akal Ustat the Guru has revealed a close knowledge of the people like the Gurkhas, the Chinese, the Manchurians, the English, the Amesians, Georgians and Romans.

The Guru commences Akal Ustat with invocation to God, who is called All Steel and ends it presenting the Hindus and the Muslims, in fact people of the World over, as seekers of the same God whose blessings they cherish.

The composition Akal Ustat is not so named in any of Dasam Granth recension. The composition is, in fact untitled, but it carries at its end the words Ustati Sampurnam (eulogy concludes). Since the Ultimate Reality has been often referred to Akal by the Guru, the composition which is heavily eulogistic of the Ultimate Reality came to be known as Akal Ustat.

There is hardly any evidence to determine the date and place of its composition. According to D.R Ashta," Akal Ustat was composed not in one sitting, but its different parts were composed at different times and were later on compiled together."[7] However the fact that a certain section of it, i.e. ten Swayyas comprising verses 21-30, is traditionally recited at the time of Sikh baptismal ceremony undoubtedly proves that Akal Ustat was composed before 1699.

The composition comprises 272 verses, the last verse being incomplete and it is composed in twelve different metres, such as Chaupai (10), Kabit (44), Swayyas (20), Tomar (20), Laghunaraj (20), Bhnjang Prayat (30), Padhari (38) including the last incomplete verse, Totak (20), Naraj (20), Ruaal (20), Diragh Tribhangi (20), and Dohira (10). The language of the composition is Braj with occasional interspersing of words from Arabic and Persian.

Bachittar Natak—Apni Katha

Bachittar Natak Granth was the name given to Dasam Granth by Bhai Mani Singh. According to the celebrated author of Shabad Murat, it is the name given to Apni Katha, Avtars of Vishnu, Avtars of Brahma, Avtars of Rudra. But somehow this name, has incorrectly been used to denote only Apni Katha. In this composition there are 371 verses. This composition is very important for a student of history, sociology, Indian mythology and religion. Here is a graphic description of wars of Bhangani and Nadaun, of the mission of the Guru, and of the rationale behind the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. A sketchy account of the Guru's early life is also available. While recording the events of his past life and dwelling on the mission for which he has been commissioned to this world, he demonstrates the racial consciousness. The composition a sort of sketchy autobiography written in rhymed verses is an exquisite exposition of the Guru's mission. The Guru records, "I assumed birth for the purpose of upholding Dharma, saving the Saints and destroying tyrants."[8] Like any other autobiography this also is an incomplete life story going as far as the advent of Prince Muazzam (later Emperor Bahadur Shah) on the scene at the head of a large contingent (Canto 13).

It is generally believed that it was composed at Anandpur sometime before the Baisakhi day (29th March) of 1699 because the creation of the Khalsa and the events thereafter find no mention in it. The language is mainly Braj with a sprinkling of words from other languages such as Avadhi and Rajasthani.

The Real One is eulogised in this composition by His names like Sri Kharag, Bhagwati and so on. In a way the Guru perceived Reality not only as Creator of everything in phenomenal world, but also as an embodiment of Shakti which annihilates hordes of the wicked. Lest this is mistaken for a mere abstraction, he highlights Reality as concerned with the affairs of this world. According to him, He had been sending messengers to this world to take care of it by restraining people from misdeeds and setting them on the path of spiritual and moral progress. In this context, he states that 'he took birth to annihilate the wicked and protect the righteous (VI, 43). Undoubtedly, the events of the Guru's life in this world stand testimony to his endeavour to fulfil the task assigned to him by the Divine. Against this background it can be safely assumed that the Reality of Guru Gobind Singh's perception is not above or in-different to what happens in the human world but is ever active for the spread of righteousness, justice and equality. The work comprises a total of 471 verses in fourteen Cantos composed in twelve different metres such as Chaupai (162 verses), Bhujang Prayat (113 verses), Rasaval (90), Dohra (38 verses—the figure includes two verses of Dohira Charni also), Naraj (33), Madhubhar (12), Szuayya (11), Totak (6), Chaupai (1), Arill (1), and Padhari (2), Tribhangi (2). Chaupai is the metre used more often because it is the most suitable for descriptive and epic poetry and is commonly used in larger composition.[9]

Chandi Charittar I, Chandi Charittar II and Chandi Di Var

There are three versions of the story of Chandi in Dasam Granth. All three are from Markandeya Purana. All three run with the gore of the battles between goddess Durga and the Demons, possibly an allegory of the battles between good and evil. Dr. Trilochan Singh says, "While the Bachittar Natak Granth gives the history of the Aryan Period, Chandi Charittar and a considerable portion of the Sarab-Loh Granth gives the history of the Pre-Aryan period. Chandi is a pre-Aryan deity still worshipped over a considerable part of India. Guru Gobind Singh gave these translations to inspire the worshippers of Chandi with heroism and revolt against the tyranny." The first two versions of Chandi Charittar are in Braj while Chandi Di Var is in Punjabi. Dr. D.P. Ashta says, "It is the first Var of its kind in Punjabi" and rates it one of the first examples of Punjabi poems. The opening verses of the Punjabi version now form part of the Ardas or daily supplicatory prayer of the Sikhs. The verses run as under :

Meditate first on the primal source of energy (God) and then turn your thoughts to Guru Nanak.

Angad Guru, Amar Das, each with Ram Das, be our protector, remember Arjan and Hargobind and then remember Sri Harkrishan whose very sight dispels all sorrows.

Think of Tegh Bahadur

So will all the nine treasures throng thy door

May they, the Gurus, be our guides,

Our protectors in all places.

It will not be out of place to emphasise, that the Guru did not worship goddess Chandi. He simply recalled Chandi as a character, capable of inspiring people to protect righteousness courageously and persistently. His invocation to Siva in Chandi Charittar Ukati Bilas must not be misunderstood as invocation of the goddess (Siva is also the name given to the wife of Siva); In fact Siva has been used as an attributive name of the Ultimate Reality which is singular. "The Puranic narrative from where the Guru selects the Adhbhut (wonderful) Katha or Lila (story) of Chandi has for the Guru no historical or religious meaning nor does he ever deify the goddess in his compositions. In fact, all the invocations to the goddess by various gods in the Puranic account are absent from the Guru's considerably condensed versions.[10] The Guru's specific choice of Durga out of millions of gods and goddesses was significant. She is one goddess without a husband, consort or lover. She is independent. She is her own mistress. She is autonomous, capable of taking her own decisions, always acting as a positive force to activate the good to dare the wicked. By attributing such characteristics to Durga, the Guru purposely gave a fresh role model in the form of a woman. This was indeed something revolutionary and breath-taking. She is also the only goddess who subsumes the many and various powers of gods who individually and collectively lacked the strength to face the challenge of demons, but only as a figure of myth and literature to be utilized to euphorize the people with new aspirations, ideals and hopes. The Guru looked upon her and for that matter on Ram, Krishan or any other incarnations as mere instruments created for moral purposes; he never looked upon them as incarnations of God. He very explicitly says in Chandi Di Var, that the strength with which Ram killed the ten­headed Ravan with arrows and Krishan caught Kans by hair and dashed him to the ground was bestowed on them by God. Indeed God himself created Durga to destroy the demons through her instrumentality.

The unique character of Durga, her determination to eradicate and finish wickedness or demonic forces fitted well in the grand design of the Guru to rebuild a fresh society based on righteousness. He made her serve a paradigm to be emulated by one and all, to overcome weakness and cowardice and to abolish unjust political authorities and social inequalities and to forge a new structure based on the egalitarianism, equality, justice and freedom.[11] Very clearly the Guru's rendering of Chandi narrative was not a pure adaptation of the mythical Puranic story in it. Chandi was presented not as a mythical person but as a symbol of divine Shakti doing heroic deeds which the Guru describes in images drawn from everyday life. "The intermixing of the extraordinary with the ordinary created an uncommon artistic effect. A special message seems to imply in all this, that everyone has the inherent potential to re-enact the Chandi legend in this very life and in this very world.

This Var comprises of a total of fifty-five Pauris. As in the case of other literary Vars, both martial and spiritual in content, this one is also in Pauri a poetic metre, with only a few Dohiras (couplets). It gives an account of six engagements in three battles out of four, two lost by Indra and two won by Durga. The story begins with Indra, crest fallen and a refugee approaching Durga with a tale of woe beseeching her to help him get back his kingdom from the Demons, Mahikhasur, Sumbh and Nisumbh et al. Of the fifty-five stanzas, forty-nine are devoted to the description of scenes from three battles, the first five and the twenty-first being purely narrative and informatory helping to elucidate the situation. It is thus poetry of action as is Walter Scott's Battle of Bannockburj and the Flooden field. It is imbued with martial spirit, being a description of martial display of scenes of actual fighting. In the words of Dr. Mohan Singh Dewana, "Guru Gobind Singh decided to press poetry into the service of both spirituality and the fight for freedom. To instil heroism into the people. He resang for them the glorious heroic achievements of their war gods and goddesses, their human ancestral victors on the battlefield and their folk heroes." Through this Var as also through Chandi Charittar I and Chandi Charittar II, he wanted to give the message of Shakti which in fact infused a new life in the suppressed people of the Punjab. Besides, the Gurus gave a new conception of their Creator, the conception of Sarb Loh, All steel, of whom Bhagzvati, Durga or Chandi was a symbol.

The Chandi Charittar Ukti Bilas is comprised of eight chapters consisting of 233 verses in all. A liberal use has been made of Swayya and Dohra in this composition. Out of the total 233 verses, 214 and eighty are in Swayya and Dohira metres, seven each in Sortha and Kabir, two each in Totak and Puneh and one in Rekhta metre. The dominant Ras is Rudra and the language is Braj.

Of the eight chapters, the first comprises twelve verses— all invocatory to the Divine. The next two chapters retell Chandi’s battle with demons and her final victory over Mahikhasur demon. The following five chapters narrate the story of several battles which Chandi fought against the commanders of Sumbh and Nisumbh and finally with them.

The last section declares the re-establishment of the hegemony of gods as a sequel to the victory of Chandi. The gods, according to the perception of Guru, were not supernatural beings. They were called as such as they performed good deeds. All those who did misdeeds were called 'demons' by the Guru.

Chandi Charittar II, another composition about the exploits of Chandi, comprises eight sections and 262 verses. Eighteen different metres are used in its composition out of which Bhujang Paryat (70) and Rasaval (69) have been put to maximum use. Other metres used include Naraj (26), Chaupai (20), Dohira (14), Beli Brindam (11), Ruaal (9), Sangit Madhubhar (9), Madhubar (8), Sangit Bhujang Prayat (7), Ruaval (6), Kualka (4), Totak (4), Bijai (2) and Sortha Sangit Naraj, Bridh Niraj and Manohar (one each). As in Chandi Charittar Ukti Bilas, the Guru also tells the story of Chandi and her battles, giving a vivid picture of all the events interlaiding them with similies and metaphors. The details however do not strictly conform to the Markandeya Puran which forms the source of the story.

Chaubis Avtar

This composition comprises of 5297 verses. It relates to twenty-four manifestations of the deity Vishnu. These twenty- four incarnates are: (1) The fish, (2) Tortoise, (3) Lion, (4) Narayan, (5) Mohani, (6) Bear, (7) Nar Singh, (8) Baivan, (9) Paras Ram, (10) Brahma, (11) Rudra, (12) Jalandhar, (13) Vishnu, (14) Shashayi, (15) Arhant Dev, (16) Man Raja, (17) Dhanantar, (18) The Sun or Surya, (19) The Moon or Chandrama, (20) Rama, (21) Krishna, (22) Nar, (23) Budh, and (24) Neh Kalanki. Among these twenty-four incarnations the story of Krishna is the longest (2492 verses), followed by that of Rama (864) and Neh Kalanki (588). Other accounts are quite brief. At the head of this composition, Guru Gobind Singh has prefixed what might be called a prologue to his work, which elucidates Guru's views on the doctrine of incarnation. The Guru declares that Primordial Being, also called Bhavani, is the sole Creator of the entire phenomenal and non-phenomenal world. All beings are the manifestations, in spirit, of the Creator. All these twenty-four incarnations were His creation but not Him who failed to realise Him.

Mehdi Mir

Mehdi Mir is a post script to the Chaubis Avtar. The composition runs into eleven quatrains. All of them are in Tomar metre. Mehdi Mir destroyed Kalki because the latter had become too powerful and haughty to distinguish between right and wrong. Now the Mehdi Mir himself became proud and regarded himself equal to God. To destroy him, Kal sent an insect which crept into his ear causing pain that proved fatal to him. While composing the story of Mehdi Mir, the Guru's purpose seemed to be that God's might is unchallengeable and whosoever indulges in un-righteousness, is punished. God is the Supreme Reality and all incarnations including Mehdi Mir were his creations who basked in glory as long as they functioned as per His will.

According to D.R Ashta, the idea of versifying Mehdi Mir seemed to have come from the writings of the Shia sect of Islam.

Brahma Avtar and Rudra Avtar

Chaubis Avtar is followed by a composition known as Avtars of Brahma, which are Balmik, Hashap, Shukra, Bachais, Vyas, Kalidas. It consists of 343 verses. This account is followed by an account of eight kings. After this, another composition Rudra Avtar is included in Dasam Granth. In this composition the stories of two incarnations of Rudra, Data and Parasnath are told. Both Brahma and Rudra Avtar compositions begin with the Guru's comment that after Brahma and Rudra fell victims to garb (egocentricity), they had a fall. Brahma was directed by Kal (Supreme Reality) to take seven births in human form on this earth and serve mankind to free himself from the process of transmigration. Likewise, Rudra was directed by the Absolute to take human birth because he had become too proud.

While composing such compositions, the purpose of the Guru seemed to be to draw the attention of the people to one cardinal fact that these incarnations were the creations of the Supreme Reality and not His co-equal or co-eternal. They were subject to death, rise and fall like other human beings. They were important because they were enlightened. Dattatreya was a great ascetic and was greatly responsible for the emergence of twelve schools of Yoga and the ten schools of Sanyasis.

Another incarnation of Rudra was also unique. He grew to be a great warrior and a King but had the never-ending quest for Truth. Ultimately, he reached the conclusion that Reality can be realised only if one dispels ignorance and achieves Bibek (True knowledge).

Gyan Prabodh (Consciousness of Knowledge)

Gyan Prabodh is another ambitious composition which is incomplete. A valuable part is probably lost forever. In its style and language, it is as perfect and grand as Akal Ustat. Out of 336 verses, 125 give the introduction. At the end of introduction, the Guru gives general plan of the book which give a progressive evolution of religion in four stages; (1) Raj Dharam (religion through political service), (2) Dan Dharam (religion of charity), (3) Bhag Dharam (religion through pious life of house­holder), (4) Moksh Dharam (religion of seeking salvation).

Ramkali Patshahi Das or Shabad Hazare

There are ten verses in Dasam Granth. These verses exhort men to worship only one God and not His manifestations or His creation. "Worship non-else except Creator, not even His creation." The true ascetic is to consider his home as the finest and be an Udasi at heart to have continence instead of matted hair and uncut finger-nails, daily religious duties, the Name is to be the ashes applied on the body." Minor deity images have also been subjected to criticism.

These shabads are traditionally called Shabad Hazare or Hazare Shabad or Hazare ke Shabad. Cunningham is of the opinion that these were originally intended to be a thousand verses. Barjinder Singh believes that these verses were addressed to the Guru's Sangat or followers who had come from the district of Hazara (now in Pakistan). There is another view that since these shabads depict pangs of Hijar (separation) of love-torn soul of the Guru, these are named Hazare—the word being abberated version ofHijir. According to Sankhshipta Hindi Shabad Sagar, Nagari Parcharni Sabha IV Edition, the word Hazare carried the meaning of 'a fountain'. Using this fact as their base, some scholars have ventured to conclude that as these shabads gushed forth as if from a spiritual fountain, sprinkling soothing drops on the restless souls of the Guru's disciples, they came to be known as Shabad Hazare.

Whatever reasons may be assigned to the name Shabad Hazare, the fact remains that this is invaluable and beautiful short composition, bringing out love and plight of a devotee feeling pangs of separation from God. These are also exquisite, in terms of poetic, art, musicality, serenity and thoughtfulness.


Swayyas is a four-line stanza. There are thirty-three four- lines stanzas in Dasam Granth. The topics of these Swayyas are the meditation on the name of God, satire on ascetic practices and superstitions, true divinity and false divinity, rapport between the Khalsa and Guru, and true religion and false religion. The text carries the signature of Mukh Vak Padshahi 10.

Shrishastar Nam Mala Puran (The Necklace Of The Names Of Weapons)

As the name indicates, this work gives us the names of weapons of war which are praised as deliverers. The composition runs into 1318 verses. Various weapons are given fanciful names. Among the simpler of these are the names of arrows. Tupak, a kind of fire arm, occupies larger space probably because it was reckoned to be the deadliest of all weapons. Many of these names of weapons are listed in the form of riddles, so much part of the Punjabi folklore and dear to the people's heart. These seem to be resolved in somewhat devious ways, for example:

"Think hard and take the sword 'trangani' (stream). They say 'ja char' (grass eater), then think of the word 'naik' (Lord). At the end say the word 'Satru' (enemy). Lo! Good friend, you have thought of the word meaning 'tupak' (gun)."

The reason only seems to be that each thing mentioned is the enemy of the next; the grass-eater is the deer (ja is what is produced by the moisture of the stream, char is to graze); the Lord and the master of the deer is the tiger, the enemy of tiger is the gun."

There is quite a store of such riddles. The value of these riddles is to keep up the interest of the people in weapons of war.

Chritro Pakhyan (Tales of the Deeds of Women)

Chritro Pakhyan means 'stories of deeds and adventure of women as heard from others'. Pakhyan means 'a short tale' (refer to Apte's Sanskrit dictionary) and Charitra means 'life', biographic account, adventure, habit, behaviour, acts and deeds. So it is wrong to translate Chritro Pakhyan as tales of the wiles of women as Charitra does not mean what it is often, madeout to be. The composition is in fact an anthology of stories of today. The stories resemble the stories of Boccassio's Decameroon so closely that some of the stories of Triya Charitra appear to have been taken from Decameroon which were probably conveyed to the Master by the Italian and Portuguese travellers. The Dutch, the Portuguese and Britishers of East Indian Company were well established and had their offices at Amritsar and Lahore during the times of Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Hargobind. There are two stories in the Dasam Granth from Portuguese accounts and there are about two concerning Englishmen interfering in the Indian states. So these stories serve the same purpose as do the modern short stories.

The prevalent idea, that all the stories are about the wiles of women is wrong. As a matter of fact there are about fifteen stories in which there are no women character at all. There are a number of stories in which men betray women who are only passive sufferers (stories No. 55, 85, 75 & 108). There are a good number of stories about the outstanding bravery of some women. They have been shown best in politics, battlefields and in the feats of adventure. The character of the women as shown in Charitra No. 165 is the noblest one that any human life can present. There are tales describing the use of temples as meeting places for sexy lovers (88, 124, 146, 260, 283, 362 etc.)

There are tales of young girls concealing illegal pregnancies. There are stories of rich ladies keeping poor he-men such as sweepers (24) and gardeners (14) as lovers. Such things are not uncommon even today and form popular subjects for the story writers of modern times. There are stories of ideal lovers for the love of whom Guru Gobind Singh has nothing but praise.

Damyanti, Hir Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal, Mirza Sahiban, Yusuf Zulekhan and Dropti are treated as ideal lovers and extract praise from the Guru.

There are 7555 verses in this composition and form the largest part of Dasam Granth. The date of its completion is Bhadon Sudi Ashtam 1753 BK/September 1692. Total number of tales are 404 which may be divided into categories such as tales of bravery, of devotion, the deceitfulness of women, and the perfidy of men.

At the end of the last tale there is a prayer to God, known as Benti Chaupai (prayer in Chaupai) in twenty-six stanzas which is highly philosophic and completely detached from the topic of the Charitro Pakhyan. The vocabulary style and thought are similar to those of the Guru's devotional and other works. This composition is one of the five Banis read at the time of preparation of Khande-Ki-Pahul. It has also been a part of the Rehras (evening prayer) recited daily by the Sikhs.

Zafar Nama (Epistle of Victory)

The Zafarnama (Epistle of Victory) bearing the signature title Sri Mukh Vak Patshahi 10 was written in February 1705 ah Dina, a village in the Southern part of the Punjab in a reply to the invitation of Aurangzeb to the Guru. The composition is in Persian language. It is in poetry and not in prose. Although it was written when the Guru had suffered significant set-backs during his Dharm Yudh, yet it betrays no such feeling. In fact the title Zafarnama which means 'letter of victory' symbolises the optimistic spirit of the Guru. The letter is of immense value for a student of history. It refers to the perfidious behaviour of the Mughal officials, the unequal contest at Chamkaur, the bricking alive of the two younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh in the walls of Sirhind Fort, the unflinching faith of the Guru in the victory of the good. The tone of the letter reminds us that its writer is convinced of justness of his cause and of achieving victory ultimately. Various facts of the Guru's religious faith can also be identified in the letter. It has 111 verses. The Guru reminds Aurangzeb again and again of the justice-loving God and the value of the moral principles. The Guru upbraids Aurangzeb for breaking oath taken on the holy Quran by the officials on his behalf. This refers to the treachery of his generals in the Battle of Anandpur when, after promising safe conduct to the Guru's forces for leaving the city, they attacked them and looted their baggage, only to find that the Guru had anticipated treachery and filled the sacks with rubbish. He calls the Emperor the Oath Breaker (Paiman-i-Shikan).


Hikayat—comprises eleven stories in the Persian language, written in Gurmukhi characters. They are placed at the end of Dasam Granth after the Zafarnama. Several of these tales are Persian duplicates of some of the tales found in Charitro Pakhyan. Hikayat 4 is Charitra 52; Hikayat 5 is Charitra 267; and 9 is Charitra 290.

Of these eleven tales, the first is that of King Mandhata who nominates, after a trial, his fourth son as his successor. The second tale relates how at the death of King of China, his ministers took up the work of administration with perfect co­operation among themselves. The third tale is about Chhatra Mathai who forced Subhatta Singh into marriage with her after defeating him in a battle. The fourth story relates to the perfidy of Qazi's wife who had murdered her husband with a view to entering the harem of Raja Suba. In the fifth story the brave daughter of a Prime Minister saves his father from the clutches of his enemies and then whips him for his folly. The sixth tale is about a virgin queen who bore a child but abandons him to escape shame. After a long time she discovered that he was alive. Then she manages to adopt him as her heir-apparent. Next two tales are about the infidelity of two queens to their respective husbands. The ninth tale relates how a prince elopes with the daughter of his Prime Minister. In the tenth tale, a woman of high rank steals two horses to offer them to her lover. The last Hikayat concerns an impetuous woman who murders her fiancé, lest he should betray her. In the Dasam Granth these Hikayats bear no heading.

Poetic Art of Guru Gobind Singh

Wrapped in the classical style of his times, his poetry is rich in metaphors, abounding in beauty of sound and over brimming with poetic niceties of diction and thought.

The metres are as full of variety as the subjects he treats. He has handled over a hundred and fifty types of metres and forms of Hindi, Persian and Punjabi measures of versification with remarkable efficiency. The bewildering variety of metres is not employed just at random. Each metre seems to have been very thoughtfully selected to contribute to the mood of the verse by its own peculiar rhythm. Out of a total number of 150 metres used in the Dasam Granth over one hundred metres have their origin in Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apabhransa and old Indian languages. The remaining metres, either new or traditional ones, appear under new names to suit the flow of narration. Guru Gobind Singh invented new metres such as Aj Ba, Akra, Akva et al. Keeping the contents in view, he gives many alternative names to some of the metre. In Dasam Granth, the Chaupai metre has been used to the maximum followed by Dohira and Swayya. While describing the battle scenes, the Guru makes extensive use of metres such as Kabit, Swayya, Pandhistaka and Bishnupada. Swayya had been hitherto used for sensuous poetry, but Guru Gobind Singh used it with consummate artistry for heroic poetry.

Words never fail him. His masterly touch transmutes the leaden metal of common words into pure gold. At times, he makes use of words which if taken out of context crumble down to nonsense poly-syllables, yet in their own context they rather look indispensable. A master of many languages, he always uses the right word at the right place, and he does not care whether it is a Persian or a Sanskrit word, and Arabic or a Punjabi word, a Hindi word or one of his own coinage. In fact, many of his compound word e.g. Raz-ul-Nidhen, or Karman-Karime are a serene co-mingling of Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian like the Sikh culture itself which is a happy admixture of the Aryan and Semitic cultures.

The Guru embellishes his poetry with alliterations apart from making use of rich imagery and right type of words. The alliterations are never forced upon the verse; nor do they, in any case, impinge upon the thought-content. They come as naturally as leaves come to a tree. The Guru decorates his poetry with many other devices as well. The following popular quatrain for example, abounds in anti-thesis. In fact, every one of its lines contains one:

Ever since I held thy lotus feet None else my eyes behold That Ram and Rahim The Purans and the Muslim Books Say much but I heed them not.

The Simrities, Shastras, Vedas, many secrets they profess to have but never do I behold.

It's all Thy grace, my saviour All thine,

Not a whit is more.

Thy 'feet' as against my 'eyes' as

against 'not' ’many’ as against 'none' are vivid

contrasts building up delightful antithesis.[12]

The Guru's poetry is very musical. He knows which form of music is right for a particular moment. If he is telling you a romantic story (Shringar Ras), the words play a mild tinkle of sweet bells. If he is writing an ode describing a battle scene (Vir Ras) the words will resound with the rhythm of drums.

If he is versifying a sad mood he will very skilfully muffle the drums. Whether the Guru writes long poems or short poems, epics of prayer-sermons, his skill as a poet always touches the highest water-mark. In fact the Guru's poetry is a real beauty and a 'joy' forever, more so because it comes straight from the springboard of heart. Wrapped in the holy sentiments of love, it enraptures all those who study it.

Name of the Compilation

The name Dasam Granth became prevalent in recent times. Bhai Mani Singh's compilation is named as Bachittar Natak. The Dasam Granth available at Moti Bagh, Patiala also bears this name. The recension of Patna is named Sri Granth. The Granth printed at Guru Khalsa Press, Amritsar bore the name Dasam Granth Sahib Ji for the first time and since then it has been in vogue. The exact number of the verses composed by Guru Gobind Singh is not known. Recently a note of Guru Gobind Singh was found by S. Randhir Singh which in its original form has been given by the learned scholar in his book Shabad Murat. According to this note, the Guru composed 1, 27, 255 verses excluding those of Zafarnama and a few others. All the verses had been composed (excepting Zafarnama) up to 14th June, 1698 and this was also the day when the compendium of all these verses had been prepared. Kesar Singh Chhibber says:

"Small book (Granth) was got ready by the Guru himself at his place in 1755 BK. This book was loved by the Guru who wrote it himself The Sikhs requested that this should be appended with Adi Granth. The Guru replied that Adi Granth was 'Granth Sahib' and this book was just a book presenting his mood." (Charan Chaudhvan, Bansavali Nama)

Different Recensions

There are three better known recensions: one is with Gulab Singh Sethi of Delhi, the other is at Harmandar Sahib at Patna and the third is at Punjab State Archives, Patiala.[13] The version authorised by the Singh Sabha and is generally available in print, closely follows the version ascribed to Bhai Mani Singh. The sequence of contents is not the same in all the three compilations. In the compilation available at Patiala, the compositions such as Chandi Charittar II and Var Durga Ki, are not included. Sahsar Sukhmana, Var Kaus Ki, Var Bhagauti Ki are not there in the compilations of Bhai Mani Singh.

We, however, have given the description of the compositions as included in the Dasam Granth printed by the Singh Sabha.

Notes and References

[1]    From this, it should not be concluded that the Guru was a revengeful militarist. His war constituted battles for self-protection and righteousness. His poetry as well as his conduct shows love for peace and harmonious fellowship, which sometimes extended to his former enemies.

[2] Piara Singh Padam, Guru Gobind Singh Ji de Darbari Ratan.

[3] Ibid., Hem Raj was given ten thousand takas. Kavresh praises Guru for his liberal grant calling this sum euphemistically 'urea of rupees'. Hir Bhat also received handsome amount.

[4] Hukamname Sikhah Val Likhe jo likhdrl Sikh Hove so Hazur Ave (Rehatname, Bhai Chaupa Singh).

[5] Piara Singh Padam in his book Guru Gobind Singh ji de Darbari Ratan has given the list of 126 poets out of which Behari Lai Das, Khiali Adha, Tado Rai, Fat Mai, Keso, Bhagtu are some who attended the meeting of the poets in Lakhi Jungle.

[6] He also includes in the list eleven scribes and clerks who worked in the establishment of Guru Gobind Singh. The list is still incomplete and more research work is required to find out the missing names.

[7] D. P. Ashta, The Poetry of Dasam Granth, p. 37.

[8] Dharm chalavan saht ubharan, Dusht saban ko mul uparan.

[9] Punjabi Sahitya Kosh, pp. 268-69.

[10] Dharam Singh, Dynamics of the Social Thought of Guru Gobind Singh, p. 60.

[11] Gurinder Kaur, "Durga Recalled by the Tenth Guru" in The Journal of Religious Studies, Vol. XVI, No. I, II, p. 69.

[12] Paen gahe jab te tumre tab te kou ankh tare nahin aniyo.

Ram Rahim Puran Kuran anek kaheh mat ek na maniyo.

Simrat Sastar Bed sabai bahu bhed kahaih hum ek na janiyo.

Sri aspdn kripa tumri kar(i) mai na kaheo sab tohe bakhaniyo.

[13] Originally it was at the Gurdwara Sahib Shahi Samadhan, Sangrur. It was procured by Maharaja Raghbir Singh. On the author's request, it was taken to the State Archives, Patiala.