Frequently Asked Questions - Sikh Research Institute

Frequently Asked Questions

Occasionally, after a workshop or interview or when a newsletter or article is goes out, someone will contact us with a question relating to Sikhi. We love that people feel comfortable coming to us with these thoughtful ideas and queries and we make an effort to do our research in crafting a response. Over the years, we’ve built up a repository of these questions and their answers, and we wanted to create a space on our site to share them.

Please keep sending questions and we will update this page as we are able to respond to them.


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When was the first printing of the Guru Granth Sahib?

When was the first printing of the Guru Granth Sahib? Where was the first printing of the Guru Granth Sahib? On which printing press was the first printing done? Any other information, books or reference materials would be appreciated. According to Giani Gurdit Singh (Mundavani), the first Guru Granth Sahib was printed in 1864. Though the publisher is not directly mentioned, he quotes Giani Narain Singh, who in the introduction of his tika to Guru Granth Sahib narrated the sequence of events that led to the printing of that first copy. Giani Narain Singh states that the owner of the “kohinur yantrailay prais” lala Harsukh Rai sent a request for permission to print Guru Granth Sahib. To decide upon which version to print, the Panth wrote names of the three versions on three different pieces of papers, did ardas and dropped it in to the sarovar of Darbar Sahib from the har ki pauri. The slip having the name of the Damdami version came out of the water. Consequently, it was decided that Damdami version of Guru Granth Sahib would be printed. The print version was based on the copy written by Bhai Tara Singh, the father of SS Lahora Singh. It is most probable that the first print was based on lithography as the typeface technology came in to use later.
As per the available copies of older printed Guru Granth Sahib, initially most of the press was based in Lahore. Another famous name is that of Munshi Gulab Singh. Probably the Panjab partition might have prompted the press to shift to east Panjab or set up new ones later.


What is nitnem? What banis are in nitnem?

The term Nitnem in a generic sense refers to the daily discipline (nit = daily; nem = rule, norm, regularity) of a Sikh. Over time it has acquired a specific connotation in the Sikh tradition, referring to the daily recitation of the banis by an initiated (Amritdhari) Sikh as prescribed in the Sikh Rahit Maryada. According to the Rahit, a Sikh is required to do, at minimum, Japu, Jap and 10 Savaye (sravag sudh samuh) in the early morning, Rahiras at sun set, and Sohila before going to bed. Reading more banis than this is a matter of personal choice and conviction.


Is Dasvandh for the Panth only, or is it for general charity as well? Is tax paid to the government for the welfare of society considered part of Dasvandh or not?

Dasvandh (lit.“tenth part”) is the practice of contributing one-tenth of one’s earning to the Guru’s cause. Though not exclusive to Sikhs, but unlike charity, dasvandh is based on the spirit of sharing. Taking out dasvandh is a religious injunction, and decision on its use requires seeking Guru’s wisdom. The Guru channelized this practice for the holistic welfare of all, especially the downtrodden. Dasvandh is the Guru’s share, who has a mandate and responsibility of unbiased welfare of all humans, both Sikhs and non-Sikhs. This requires uninterrupted running of institutions furthering Guru’s word and cause. Since, Sikhi is a faith of collectivity (sangat), dasvandh is also a symbol of community involvement, positive contribution, sharing and service, which is well nourished by the institutions of sangat and pangat (langar). The dasvandh itself serves as a means for an individual to practice his/her faith, as well as to actively participate in the affairs of the Guru Panth. It is the duty of the individual to be vigilant and make sure that the dasvandh is used for its intended purpose according the Gurmat.

On the other hand, taxes are spent by the government on secular grounds that may or may not conform to Gurmat. Consequently, it seems more rational to pay government taxes separately.


If Nirankar is beyond description or form, then how is in Bani “Nirankar” in Vahu Vahu Bani nirankar hai?

When trying to understand Gurbani it is important to look at it in context. Guru Amardas Sahib says Vahu Vahu Bani nirankar hai tis jevadu avaru na koi. Vahu Vahu agam athahu hai vari vari saca soi. Guru Sahib is explaining to us that the greatness of Bani lies in its ability to express for us the attributes of the formless Divine power through praise.This praise is what brings us to see what the qualities or characteristics of Vahguru are. It gives us an opportunity to live our life by instilling these attributes of the Divine within us. Thus, Gurbani provides us with divine insight into unfathomable and seemingly inaccessible Divine truth.


How does an individual rise above fears and apprehensions (which come so naturally) in our daily life? How can the mind chat less?

It is true that we naturally build fear and apprehensions when exposed to different situations—this is our conditioning and training. Guru Granth Sahib explains that our effort needs to be placed on developing harmony with the Divine. Once we are in harmony, then even though we may be exposed to situations of fear, it will not consume us. Once we feel the grace, our natural tendency will be to live and expand the culture of Love, not fear. At that juncture, mind is in the realm of thoughtfulness.


Some people say Mul Mantr is up to Gurparsadi and others say it us up to Nanak Hosi Bhi Sach. Which one is it?

People have different opinions on this, but the one that we find most convincing is that the Mul Mantr begins with Ik Oankar and ends with Gurprasadi. Perhaps the most significant reason supporting this standpoint is that, as the Mul Mantr appears throughout the Guru Granth Sahib, it consistently appears as Ik Oankar to Gurprasadi. In most cases, the Mul Mantr appears at the beginning of a major composition or rag, and the same can be said for Japuji Sahib. The Mul Mantr (Ik Oankar to Gurprasadi) serves as a sort of prelude, Japu serves as a title for the upcoming composition, and the following lines (Adi Sacu to Nanak Hosi Bhi Sacu) serve as an opening to the revealed bani.


Guru Granth has compilations from Bhagats and their contribution to Sikhi is very significant. The thought was already sowed in society about the philosophy before Guru Nanak Ji gave it a form and organized it. There is no reference to Bhagats in our Ardas. Why is that?

First, you are absolutely correct that the bhagats and sheikhs have contributed significantly to Sikhi at large; the fact that their writings were selected for inclusion in our scriptural canon attests to this fact. Having said that, while these figures have contributed to our scripture, we must be very careful to understand that the Sikh tradition actually began with Guru Nanak Sahib and that Sikhi is distinct from the “Bhakti traditions.” For more on the difference between the Sikh and Bhakti traditions, we recommend picking up a copy of Jagjit Singh’s The Sikh Revolution.

To answer your question more specifically, the first half of the communal ardas memorializes Sikh history. Of course the historical context and biographies of the bhagats and sheikhs are relevant and important to Sikhs and Sikhi. However, since the bhagats and sheikhs preceded the crystallization of the Sikh tradition, they are not technically included as members of our tradition, and therefore, not memorialized in our communal ardas.


What is the importance of kirpan bheyttaa, specifically in regards to Guru Ka Langar?

Touching a kirpan to the parshad is a tradition that can be traced back to the lives of our Guru-Prophets (before 1708 CE). This action served as an indication of the Guru’s acceptance of offered parshad and blessing to the Sikh nation; the Sikhs’ acceptance and consumption of parshad displays a submission to the Guru.

This tradition lives on today. In the gurduara, parshad is distributed after the daily order is read from the Guru Granth Sahib. Before it is given to the larger Sikh community, parshad is given to five Sikhs who have formally pledged allegiance to the Guru. This tradition indicates that the Guru Khalsa Panth continues to thrive and survive.

Although both are historically-rooted, the tradition of parshad is very different than the institution of langar. Parshad is somewhat exclusive to Sikhs because its acceptance indicates an oath to follow the Guru’s command, whereas langar, by definition holds no such implication. Langar is for anyone and everyone. Although people have recently begun to touch the kirpan to a plate of langar, this is a recent phenomenon, and does not match up directly with the tradition of parshad.


What is considered “kachi bani”? What can be sung in kirtan during divan?

As you may have guessed, there are protocols on what can be sung in a gurduara setting among the sangat. According to the Sikh Rahit Maryada (the document that functions as the Sikh code of conduct): The exposition can only be of the ten Gurus’ writings or utterances, Bhai Gurdas’s writings, Bhai Nand Lal’s writings or of any generally accepted Panthak book or books of history (which are in agreement with the Guru’s tenets), and not of a book of any other faith. However, for illustration, references to a holy person’s teachings or those contained in a book may be made. Essentially, only those utterances are acceptable that exhibit the spirit of Sikhi and Gurmat traditions.


Are Sikhs allowed to eat meat? Some say yes, some say no. What do our primary sources say?

In the Guru Granth Sahib, the clear statement related to meat issue labels those who argue over this question as fools. Of course people on both sides of the issue derive arguments from Gurbani, but the interpretations of this otherwise ambiguous issue are highly diverse.

The Sikh Rahit Maryada makes no statement on the general consumption of meat. In fact, unlike many other major religions, there are few dietary restrictions. The explicit prohibitions are limited to: alcohol, tobacco, other recreational intoxicants, and halal meat (prepared according to Islamic tradition; the spirit of this extends prohibition of meat prepared with any ritual, religious or otherwise). There are numerous arguments on both sides of the issue, but let us always remember that there are more important issues to resolve. Doctrinally it is a moot issue—it is a futile effort to spend time arguing our personal positions on the allowance or disallowance of meat.


If Gurmukhi lipi was created by the second Guru, what lipi did Guru Nanak use for writing his bani? Does any of Guru Nanak’s hand-written bani exist?                            

While Guru Angad Sahib formalized Gurmukhi, Guru Nanak Sahib originated this script and utilized it as well. The composition entitled “patti” serves as evidence for this fact. In “patti,” Guru Nanak Sahib writes in a poetic form similar to the western “acrostic” style, while naming the Gurmukhi letters that we still use today.

Sikhs have a very strong scribal tradition beginning from Guru Nanak Sahib. This may be due to the fact that reveled bani is considered the essence of the divine wisdom and is also the eternal Guru for the Sikhs.

Janamsakhis and other sources allude to Guru Nanak Sahib having a pothi, which he handed over to his successor Guru Angad Sahib at the latter’s coronation, which continued with each successor. None of the Guru Nanak Sahib writings are extant in manuscript form.


Is Nam simran the verbal recitation of the word “Vahguru”?

Verbally reciting Vahiguru is definitely an important aspect of nam simran, but there is more to it than that. In fact, remembering Vahiguru through speech is basically a tool to help us with the essence of nam simran which can be understood as the constant identification with Vahiguru in our hearts and minds.

Nam simran is not formulaic; there are many ways of remembering Vahiguru. In other words, the oral expression of this identification is just one way of developing a lifestyle centered on the loving remembrance of the Divine.


I attended Sidak this year and in one of the classes it was explained why it should be called “Sikhi” and not “Sikh-ISM.” I don’t remember the reasoning as to why, will you refresh my memory?

As we can see from the writings of the Guru Granth Sahib and Bhai Gurdas, the term “Sikhi” served as the original name for the religion. However, when the Europeans entered South Asia, their scholars used the term “Sikh-ism.” Why should we adopt their “new” name when we already have a perfectly good one?

Additionally, every time we use the label “Sikh-ism,” we give a little bit more power to the Western scholars, while surrendering a small amount of our own. It is crucial that our community fights such lingering colonial impositions and preserves traditional, Guru-given vocabulary.


According to Gurbani, the path to Vahguru is through the Guru. Is adopting the Rahit a precondition to becoming our Guru’s Sikh? Or, even going further, is becoming an Amritdhari Sikh a precondition to becoming our Guru’s Sikh?

There are two parts of the question; first is the need to practice rahit and the second is the need to take Ammrit (becoming initiated), in order to be called Guru’s Sikhs.

As per the Gurbani and Sikh traditions, one formally submits to the Guru’s way thru Ammrit (initial ceremony of khade-ki-pahul). From that day onwards, a Sikh’s primary allegiance is to the Guru. Rahit is the lifestyle of a Sikh. Every Sikh is encouraged to follow the lifestyle; the initiated Sikh has no other option. Hence, rahit is a requirement for the initiated Sikhs, while it is recommendation for the Sikhs working toward formally giving allegiance to the Guru.

Taking Ammrit and practicing rahit are two sides of the same coin. While taking Ammrit is the formal ceremonial acceptance of, and submission to, the house of Guru Nanak Sahib, rahit is the way of an Ammritdhari. It is living a completely enlightened and harmonious life of the Gurmukh as per the Guru’s command (Gurmat). Just as observing the rules of an institution without enrolling oneself with it, and the vice-versa are useless, so is observing rahit without taking Ammrit or not observing rahit after taking Ammrit. As a corollary both are important for identification with the Guru.


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