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on 14 December 2006
Translating the Sikh Scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth, is a difficult task, not least because the scriptures are composed in a combination of Braj Bhasha (the dominant language of the Dasam Granth), Sanskrit, Old Hindi and Old Punjabi, but also because the scriptures (Guru Granth Sahib) are arranged in musical verse. This presents the translator with a number of challenges. Firstly, translating the words into a language foreign to the text leaves open the possibility of mis-translation because equivalent words or phrases may not exist in both languages. Secondly, the translation of poetic verse requires careful attention to the metaphors and similes being used as well as careful attention to the mythology being evoked. Thirdly, the musical arrangement of the verses adds an emotional dimension to the words that colours their meaning. This recent translation by Mandair and Shackle (2005) attends to all three of these challenges. It also goes a step beyond them by highlighting the philosophical themes (Time and Impermanence, Self and Mind, Ethics, Authority, Knowledge) present within the scriptures and by contextualising these themes within an historical/political narrative that, not only, shows the importance and relevance of the Sikh Scriptures to the Sikhs, but also, highlights the place of the Sikh Scriptures within the greater corpus of Indian literature and philosophical thought.
This pioneering book opens with a lengthy introduction that provides a brief historical account of the development of one of the youngest and modern religious traditions to have been exported out of India since the colonial period. The account begins with a description of the religious traditions found within sixteenth and seventeenth century Northern India and shows how the Sikh Gurus created an original and lasting tradition embedded within the nirgun bhakti movement. The poetic expression and musical arrangement of the Sikh Scriptures is characteristic of this movement that emphasised devotion to the `divine unqualified by attributes'. It is often thought that this ostensibly internal devotion precludes the possibility of the Sikh Tradition making political interventions. However, the unquestionably ethical nature of the Guru's thought seeks to undermine this supposition; demonstrating the impossibility of a spirituality without a concern for others. It is with this understanding that we can appreciate the development of a political dimension of Sikh-ism and the valiant tradition of sacrifice that, not only culminated in the development of the Khalsa Panth (a religio-political order under the direct command of the Guru), but continues to inspire the creation of many charitable organisations such as Bhagat Puran Singh's Pingalwara; an organisation dedicated to the alleviation of environmental and social problems.
What emerges from this new translation, then, is a re-vitalised intellectual tradition that connects miri (body) with piri (mind) and offers challenges to the understanding of Sikh-ism as either an interior private practice or a body of politically inert intransigent symbols. Given the ground-breaking nature of this book, and its potential to re-orientate the academic field of Sikh Studies, it is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Sikh-ism. For the Sikhs themselves this is essential reading and will no doubt fast become a reference book in every home and Gurdwara.
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on 14 June 2011
At last an academic critique of sikhism. The aim is to give a structure to those interested in this subject as well as eastern faiths in general. While the guru granth sahib is a wonderful text, it is important to tease out the aspects which the various contributors were aiming helping us undestand. This text is a must for all parties who are truly interested in the teachings of sikhism.
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