Jaap Sahib Translation Synopsis
with 7 different English Translations
Guru Gobind Singh’s Jaap Sahib explicitly employs rhythm and phonetic imitations (onomatopoeia) to evoke warrior spirit, the rhythm of war dance, galloping horses, clashing swords – a war first and foremost against the laziness of consciousness, to overcome the slavery of the Self to the tyranny of the alliance of Maya, mind (man) and the desires of the senses, the latter often exemplified as the five thieves of greed, lust, anger, attachment and ego-pride.
To expand the variety of sound-colours and sound-scapes, Guru Gobind Singh uses a number of languages – all transliterated to the Gurbani script – which provide more primal sound syllables (akhris, phonemes), resonating in turn with a greater variety of elementary energies and activity patterns of the brain and psycho-emotional states. The use of more languages allows more sophistication in sound-scape poetry but also requires from the reader more skill for pronunciation and understanding.
Compared to Guru Nanak’s Japji Sahib, the content of Jaap Sahib seems less concerned with statements of teachings and philosophy than with variously structured praises of uttermost phonetic beauty and sophistication. For the most part, it contains descriptions of the Divine in form of negations: un-dying, no-form, in-vincible, without name, beyond elements. This counteracts the mind’s tendency to try and figure out, categorise and understand in order to feel save and sure of knowing. The continuous negation of tangible attributes makes the mind surrender at the attempt to understand and confine Existence. Japji Sahib, on the other hand, stresses the infinity, endlessness and countlessness of Existence to achieve the same surrender of the controlling mind and to bring us into a state of wonder, innocence and awe.
Reading different translations of this jewel of Divine poetry, we find a variety of possible understandings of its content, different minds reflecting different aspects of its essence ca 300 years after its conception. In this synopsis, seven different English translations are listed next to each other. The original Gurmukhi with transliteration in the first column is followed by translations from:
1. Prof. Gurbachan Singh, Nitnem Transliteration & Translation (1997), from panthrattan.com
2. Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa, from punjabonline.com or sikhnet.com (same translation as above)
3. Surinder Singh Kohli, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib Translation (2003), on searchgurbani.com
4. Dr. Kamalroop Singh Nihang, Jāpu Sāhib – History and Translation (2017), pdf download
5. Shri Surendra Nath & Baba Virsa Singh, Gobind Sadan (1996), from gobindsadan.org
6. Dr. Rabinder Powar, Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala (2005), on archive.org
7. Dr. Jodh Singh & Dr. Dharam Singh, Sri Dasam Granth Sahib (1999), pdf download
8. Dr. Kulwant Singh Khokhar, Nit-Nem Daily Prayer (2001), from punjabonline.com
The preceding introduction touches on the duality of the mind and the thin path of the student, the teachings of balance, the enegrgy and style of the poetry of Jaap Sahib, and some miscellanea about Jaap Sahib.
Shahmukhi Gurmukhi Sanskrit
IPA Transliteration Letter Chart
Guru Gobind Singh uses words in His Bani which have their roots in either Sanskrit- or Arabic-related languages, two independent language families (neither has developed from the other), which can be said to represent the two main religions of the time, Hinduism and Islam, and maybe the Vedic and Abrahamic traditions as such, respectively.
Both, Sanskrit and Arabic, have their own, different alphabets. However, all words in Guru Gobind Singh’s Bani are written in the Gurmukhi script, a third alphabet, somewhat based on the Sanskrit alphabet, which was developed by the Sikh Gurus at the time.
Similar to the reformation movements in Europe, there was an attempt to make the Divine message and lifestyle available for everybody, not only the higher castes and clerics (through translations from Sanskrit and Latin to more common languages), and to show the unity of truth in all religions in a universal “third way,” the way of the Khalsa Gursikh. Similar ideas can be found in the movements of the (primarily Muslim) Sufis and (primarily Hindu) Bhagats of the time.
Being confronted with a wide range of origins of words within one and the same composition, one must wonder how the words were pronounced back then. Even in those times, people must have had their limitations of approximating the sounds of foreign languages, and also the pronunciation of languages can vary greatly from region to region and changes through the passing of time.
In this Shahmukhi Gurmukhi Sanskrit IPA Transliteration Letter Chart, it can be seen – among some other things – how the letters of the three languages Shahmukhi (representing the alphabet of Arabic, Farsi and Urdu), Gurmukhi and Sanskrit approximate each other, and were most probably mapped to produce all loan and foreign words in the Gurmukhi script.
Jaap Sahib Dictionary
Jaap Sahib Resources
Literature & Videos
a list of selected literature and translation resources on Jaap Sahib