Waheguru

Waheguru or Vahiguru also spelt and pronounced Vahguru, is the distinctive name of the Supreme Being in the Sikh dispensation, like YHWH in Judaism and Allah in Islam. In Sikh Scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, the term does not figure in the compositions of the Gurus, though it occurs therein, both as Vahiguru and Vahguru, in the hymns of Bhatt Gayand, the bard contemporary with Guru Arjan, Nanak V (1553-1606), and also in the Varan of Bhai Gurdas.

Guru Gobind Singh, Nanak X (1666-1708), used Vahiguru in the invocatory formula (Ik Onkar Sri Vahiguru ji ki Fateh, besides the traditional Ik Onkar Satigur Prasadi) at the beginning of some of his compositions as well as in the Sikh salutation (Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa Vahiguru ji ki Fateh varied as Sri Vahiguru ji ki Fateh). Bhai Gurdas at one place in his Varan (I.49) construes vahiguru as an acrostic using the first consonants of the names of four divine incarnations of the Hindu tradition appearing in four successive eons. Some classical Sikh scholars, such as Bhai Mani Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh and Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, taking this poetic interpretation seriously, have traced the origin of the term in ancient mythology.

Modern scholars, however, affirm that the name Vahiguru originated with the Gurus, most likely it was first uded by the founder of the faith, Guru Nanak, himself. According to this view, Vahiguru is a compound of two words, one from Persian and the other from Sanskrit, joined in a symbiotic relationship to define the indefinable, indescribable Ultimate Reality. Vah in Persian is an interjection of wonder and admiration, and guru (Sanskrit guru: heavy, weighty, great, venerable; a spiritual parent or preceptor) has been frequently used by Guru Nanak and his successors for satiguru (True Guru) or God. Bhai Santokh Singh, in Sri Gur Nanak Prakash (pp. 1249-51), reporting Guru Nanak’s testament to the Sikhs has thus explicated Vahiguru: Vah is wonder at the Divine might; gu is spiritual darkness while ru is illumination brought to eliminate this darkness.

Cumulatively, the name implies wonder at the Divine Light eliminating spiritual darkness. It might also imply, “Hail the Lord whose name eliminates spiritual darkness.” Earlier, Bhai Mani Singh], Sikhan di Bhagat Mala, gave a similar explication, also on the authority of Guru Nanak. Considering the two constituents of Vahiguru (vahi + guru) implying the state of wondrous ecstasy and offering of homage to the Lord, the first one was brought distinctly and prominently into the devotional system by Guru Nanak, who has made use of this interjection, as in Majh ki Var (stanza 24), and Suhi ki Var, sloka to pauri 10.

Apart from the use of this interjection, the attitude of wonder and total submission at the sight of Divine Greatness is prominently visible in Guru Nanak as evidenced for example in the hymn in Dhanasari:

“gagan mai thalu ravi chandu dipak bane tarika mandal janak moti (GG, 663);

in measure Suhi:

“kaun taraji kavanu tula tera kavanu saraphu bulava” (GG, 730);

and in Japji:

“kete pavan pani vaisantar kete kan mahes, kete barame gharati ghariahi rup rang ke ves” (GG, 7).

In Asa ki Var (GG, 462-75) the opening sloka to pauri 3 is woven round vismad—vismadu nad vismadu ved, wondrous is the sound, wondrous the wisdom. Wonder and ecstasy are expressed at the cosmic order and its mystery full of contradictions, yet all comprehended in the Divinely-appointed system. This salok concludes with: “Ever present to our gaze is wonder. At the sight of this mystery are we wonderstruck. Only by supreme good fortune is it unravelled.” In the opening salok to pauri 4—bhai vichi pavanu vahai sadvau, in (the Lord’s) fear bloweth the wind with its myriad breezes—is expressed wonder at the cosmic “fear” under which the universe operates in obedience to the Divine Law, the Lord alone being exempt from such fear.

Preserved as MS Panj D4 at the British Library, this is one folio from a Gutka published in 1830 CE and acquired by Jind Kaur, also known as Maharani Jindan (1817–1863) – wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Sikh Empire. The Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib is a thick text of some 1430 pages. It is placed in the sanctum of a Sikh temple. For private collections, the Sikh tradition has been to acquire a Gutka (plural: Gutke). A Gutka is a short anthology of a few principal hymns.A popular version is a Panj-granthi gutka, or one that has five major hymns. The early Gutke were elaborately illustrated. The manuscript Panj D4 contains three hymns from the Gurū Granth Sāhib: Sidh Gosti of Guru Nanak, Bavan Akhari and Sukhmani of Guru Arjan. Each hymn starts with the left side depicting a colored illustration, while the text is on the right in Gurmukhi script with white letters and embellishments on a black background. This illustration depicts Guru Nanak as a young man in dialogue with the Siddhas (Hindu ascetics). This is a photograph of the manuscript created and published in 1830 CE. The 2D-Art licensing guidelines of wikimedia commons therefore apply. Any rights I have as a photographer, I herewith donate to wikimedia under its CC4.0 terms. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1925. This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

Guru Nanak with Hindu holymen

In Japji, besides other themes, one that stands out prominent is wonder at the cosmic order, its infinitude and the mystery of its moral élan. As a matter of fact, the theme of Japji may be said to be what occurs in the course of stanza 4: vadiai vicharu (contemplation of Divine infinity). In stanza 16, for example, is the expression of wonder at the limitlessness of space. Stanzas 17-19, each beginning with asankh (infinite), are uttered in the same mood.

In stanza 22—patala patal lakh agasa agas, countless the worlds beneath, countless the worlds above—is a vision of the limitlessness of the universe. So are stanzas 24, 25, 26, 27, 32, 34, 35 and 36. It is in response to this overwhelming vision of Guru Nanak that the unique Name of the Supreme Being, Vahiguru, originated. No other name could have been adequate to express what in his vision he found lying at the heart of the cosmos, compelling a response in the human self attuned to devotion and ecstasy.

Guru Amar Das has also employed the term in Gujari ki Var (GG, 514-16) and in Astpadis in Malar (GG. 1277). In the former, it is calculated that the interjection vahu-vahu (Hail, hail the Lord) is used as many as 96 times. The interjection vahu (hail, wondrous is the Lord) occurs in Guru Ram Das in conjunction with Satiguru (compounded from Guru) in sloka 2 in Sloka Varan te Vadhik (GG, 1421). In Guru Arjan by whose time the formulation Vahiguru appears to have become current and acquired distinctiveness as the Name Divine, the phrase ‘Gur Vahu’ figures in Asa measure (GG, 376). This is only as inverted form of Vahiguru and has the same force and significance. Kavi Santokh Singh in Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth (p. 5686) uses the two terms as synonymous: “simrahu vahiguru guru vahi, or contemplate ye Vahiguru, the Lord all hail.”

The earliest use of Vahiguru, in this form, is traceable to Varan by Bhai Gurdas and to Gayand’s hymns in the Guru Granth Sahib. In both it may be said to have occurred contemporaneously, for while no date can be assigned to Bhai Gurdas’ Varan, the work may be assumed to have appeared soon after the compilation of the Scripture in 1604, being so much alive with its spirit and phraseology. Gayand in the course of his lines encomiastic of Guru Ram Das (GG. 1403) made use of Vahiguru as the supreme Name Divine in recognition of the primacy and appeal it had by then come to acquire in the Sikh tradition. In this Savaiyya numbered 11, the term occurs twice as Vah Guru. Earlier in that numbered 6, it is repeated thrice as Vahiguru in the opening line, expressing fervour of devotion. So also in the concluding line of Savaiyya 7. In Savaiyya 12, Vahu Vahu (Wonder, personifying the Lord) signifies the Supreme marvel, embracing the infinitude of the universe. In Savaiyya 13, this name is used twice once as Vahiguru in the opening line and Vah Guru in the last line. In the concluding line of Savaiyya 8, Vahiguru is used thrice, concluding with the interjection Vahi (Hail).

Some relevant lines from Bhai Gurdas, Varan, may also be reproduced here: vahiguru guru sabadu lai piram piala chupi chabola, putting faith in Vahiguru, the Master’s teaching, the seeker drains in peace and tranquillity the cup of devotion (IV. 17); “paunu guru gursabadu hai vahiguru gur sabadu sunaia, paun—guru is the Master’s word wherethrough he imparted the holy name Vahiguru (VI. 5); vahiguru salahna guru sabadu alae, to laud the Lord let me give utterance to the Master’s Word (IX. 13); satiguru purakh daial hoi vahiguru sachu mantra sunaia, the holy Master in his grace imparted to the seeker the sacred incantation Vahiguru (XI. 3); nirankaru akasu kari joti Sarup anup dikhaia, bed kateb agochara vahiguru gursabadu sunaia, the Formless Lord manifesting himself granted sight of His unique effulgent self and imparted to the seeker the Word Vahiguru, that is beyond the ken of Vedas and the Muslim Scriptures” (XII. 17); vahiguru gurmantra hai japi haumai khoi, Vahiguru is the Master’s incantation.

By repeating it egoism is cast out (XIII. 2); dharamsal kartarpuru sadh sangati sachkhandu vasaia, vahiguru gur sabadu sunaia, Guru Nanak in the temple at Kartarpur established the Realm Eternal as the holy congregation, and imparted to it the Divine Word Vahiguru (XXIV. 1); sati namu karta purakhu vahiguru vichi ridai samae, let the seeker lodge in his heart the holy Name, the creator immanent, Vahiguru” (XL. 22). In these verses, Vahiguru signifies the supreme name Divine, to which devotion may be offered. It is transcendent and annular of sin and evil, thus combining in itself the ‘attributed’ and the ‘unattributed’ aspects in consonance with the Sikh doctrine voiced in the Scripture. The main point is that by Guru Arjan’s time and after, this name over all others was established as the object of devotion. The term received the final seal in the time of Guru Gobind Singh.

Vahiguru is for Sikhs the gurmantra (invocatory formula received from the guru) or nam for repetition (silently or aloud, with or without a rosary) and meditation upon the Supreme Reality. Bhai Gurdas in his Varan refers to it variously as japu mantra (invocation for repetition), guru sabadu (the Guru’s Word), sachu mantra (true mantra) and gurmantra. It is also called nam (the Name), and is sometimes compounded as “Satinam-Vahiguru” to be chanted aloud in congregations. Nam japna (repeated utterance of God’s Name, i.e. Vahiguru) is one of the three cardinal moral principles of Sikhism, the other two being kirat karni or honest labour and vand chhakna or sharing one’s victuals with the needy. Since the manifestation of the Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, Vahiguru has been part of the Sikh salutation: Vahiguru ji ka Khalsa, Vahiguru ji ki Fateh (Hail the Khalsa who belongs to the Lord God! Hail the Lord God to whom belongs the victory! ! ). It has since also been the gurmantra imparted formally at initiation to the novitiate by the leader of the Panj Piare administering the rites.

By G. S. Talib

Bibliography

  1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959
  2. Gurdas, Bhai, Varan. Amritsar, 1962
  3. Mani Singh, Bhai, Sikhan di Bhagat Mala. Amritsar, 1955
  4. Santokh Singh, Bhai, Sri Gur Pratap Suraj Granth. Amritsar, 1927-35
  5. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944

This article is borrowed from SikhiWiki.