SGGS translations

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Into English

Dr Gopal Singh

Main article: Sri Guru Granth Sahib by Dr Gopal Singh
The first English translation of Guru Granth Sahib

Dr Gopal Singh was responsible for completing the first complete translation of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib into English in 1960. It believed that initially it was published in 2 volumes although the present publications are published in a four volume set. As the first English translation, it was very welcomed by non-Punjabi readers and received a wide distribution. The 'International Edition' published by the World Sikh University Press in 1978, has a light blue cover.

Dr. Gopal Singh's stellar reputation for scholarly work in service of the Dharma is well deserved. In fact, the introduction to the work, in the first of the four volumes, is a remarkable work in and of itself. Especially readable and worthwhile is Section II: On the Philosophy of Sikh Religion. In this treatise on comparative religion, he traces the common threads of religious thought throughout the ages, giving one a deeper appreciation of Sikh Dharma. His brief explanation of the Kundalini and Yogic traditions is well-done.

The first major attempt to write a literary analysis of Gurbani was made by Dr Gopal Singh, a famous Sikh scholar. In 1958, he presented the work 'Sri Guru Granth Sahib di Sahitak Visheshta,' dealing with some of the important literary aspects of Gurbani. The work is still considered important in Punjabi literary circles and for a long time it was seen as the standard work on the subject. Dr Gopal Singh was also the first to translate Sri Guru Granth Sahib (1960) and another work titled 'A History of The Sikh People' from 1979 has attached appreciation to his name. The translation was in English verse, and showed his keen interest of literary aspects of Gurbani.

His grammar, however, is somewhat antiquated and distracting.

For example:

"Yea Manifests He in a myriad ways." "For several births thou wert a mere worm." "He, (whose way is this,) Knows his Master and Compassion comes into him, And becomes Eternal he: he dies not thereafter."

He included excellent footnotes explaining legendary persons, Hindu mythology and local folk idioms, and these often reveal more clearly the true meaning of the Guru's Word. Often, he explains the linguistic derivation of a word or idiom. From his thorough understanding of comparative religion, he brings to light the common threads which run through Sikhism and other religions.

Page breaks are only roughly approximated to the original, and the numbering system of the original is roughly preserved, although there are a large number of mistakes in the numbers.

Manmohan Singh

A very different translation was published just a short time after Dr. Gopal Singh's work came out. Back in 1948, after Sardar Manmohan Singh, a devout Sikh, lost everything worldly in the partition of India and Pakistan, he began work on what would be a lasting legacy. He worked on this for 12 years, completing it in 1960. This is the ëeight-volume setí with the original Gurmukhi, side-by-side with translations into English and Panjabi, with nearly every word individually cross-referenced across the three languages. The S.G.P.C. published and distributed this 8-volume set in a dark blue cover, starting with the first volume in 1962, and completing the eighth in 1969, the year in which Manmohan Singh passed on.

For the first time, Sikhs all around the world had access to a most practical resource in understanding the Word of the Guru. It has become common practice in all parts of the world to install this 8 volume set as Guru, and read out the Hukam in both Gurmukhi and English, and sometimes in Panjaabi as well. Many Gurdwaras, especially larger ones, have a single volume Bir installed, and use this 8-volume set to read out the translation.

Page breaks appear to be precisely placed, but are not correlated to the original with any precision, and there are many typographical errors. There are also small passages of the original which are omitted in this work-again, typographical mistakes.

Overall, this work represents a distinctly more accurate and direct translation of the Guru's Word, although it includes a large number of antiquated, idiosyncratic expressions more common to 18th and 19th century British India-words like mammon (for Maya), myrmidon, collyrium, mumpers, gnosis (for knowledge), apostates, sans (French for without), etc. Much of his grammar is so dated as to be distracting, and even confusing to the modern ear.

For example:

"Raising, the embankments of my mind's field, I gaze at the high sky or mansion. When Divine devotion enters bride's mind-home, the Friendly Guest pays her a visit." He, who slanders Thy attendant, him Thou chrusheth and destroyest".

In spite of these difficulties, the translation has a much deeper impact, and a more obvious accuracy, than the Bhai Gopal Singh translation. It is very poetic, and conveys a sense of humility and devotion.

Gurbachan Singh Talib

According to his own introduction to the book, Gurbachan Singh Talib of Panjabi University, Patiala, was assigned in 1977 the task of compiling a new translation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. It is grammatically the least satisfying - that is, the most distracting -of the three works so far.

For example:

"In listening to laudation of the Name etemal find I life." "To whomsoever the vision of unicity does grant, propped by the holy congregation, of the Lord's love has joy"

He does include many useful footnotes, shedding some light on the Guru's Teachings. Overall, however, it adds little to the Manmohan Singh translation, and it has not superseded either of the previous translations. (This is the translation found on the commercial CD Scriptures & the Heritage of Sikhs - ssb)

Pritam Singh Chahil

More recently, in 1993, another work was printed and made available. Pritam Singh Chahil printed the Manmohan Singh Edition back in Chandigarh, in the 1960's; in 1986, he was inspired by a Gurdwara service in Berkeley, in which the '8 volume set' was installed as Guru, and 'Shabad sheets' were passed out to the Sangat. He had a vision that the entire Guru should be printed in this three-column format, and so he set about to do it. He completed it in 1990, and in 1993, it became available.

It is in a three-column format, with Gurmukhi on the left, English translation on the right, and Romanised transliteration in the center of each page. He has made a fairly close, but not exact, approximation of page breaks, and preserved the numbering system fairly well.

This translation is a revised version of the Manmohan Singh translation, and as thus, it is the finest complete translation of the Guru yet published; its unique format allows the Guru's Word to be approximated in pronunciation, even by those who do not yet read Gurmukhi. However, the transliteration system used is the old British-English transliteration, wherein the word for - KAYSH - meaning 'hair' - is transliterated as KESH. Most modern readers will pronounce KESH to rhyme with 'mesh', thereby mispronouncing this important word. This is the same transliteration system by which most of us mispronounced -'Nit Naym'; {We read the transliteration 'NIT NEM', and we mispronounced it.} *'NIT NAYM' and KAYSH' are the correct pronunciations.

Also, some of the more distracting idioms and antiquated expressions of the Manmohan Singh translation are copied verbatim.

It is distributed in two forms: a four-volume set, and also a single volume. It is eminently suitable for installation in Gurdwara. It is a large volume, 12 by 17 inches (34 inches wide when opened). It is also a very valuable tool in the process of learning to read and understand Gurmukhi, although it does not have the word -to-word notations of the Manmohan Singh edition.

Khalsa Consensus Translation

This translation by Singh Sahib Sant Singh Khalsa, MD is already available on CD - see website at It is based on all the available translations, working primarily from the Manmohan Singh translation. The author, Singh Sahib Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa has attempted to faithfully follow the original Gurmukhi text as closely as possible and maintain accuracy in page breaks and the numbering notations found in Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Dr. Sant Singh said, "The translation was based on the 4 available versions comparing and contrasting, and also using a variety of dictionaries, and sometimes using words and translations from the Siri Singh Sahib. It was intended as a consensus translation, using modern English and understandable idioms, and avoiding the antiquated expressions that are so common in the past versions."

The main objectives of this translation was:

  • first, to achieve an accurate translation of the Guru's Word;
  • to present the Guru's Word in an elegant format which follows the original as much as possible;
  • to eliminate the antiquated idioms which are so distracting to the modern ear,
  • to preserve the word order and symmetry of the original whenever possible: and
  • to achieve the immediacy of impact which the Guru's Word deserves in translation.

In this version, the author has preserved exact page breaks to the original, along with all of the numbers at the ends of lines.

Although Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa's translation (also referred to as the "Khalsa Consensus Translation") is the easiest to read, written in simple English, and it is closest to the order of words in Gurbani. It is very difficult to ensure that proper meaning is conveyed while also preserving the simplicity of language. Dr. Sant Singh seems to have achieved this formidable goal.

However, even though this work is good enough for routine reference, it has some serious flaws as well. Here are some examples:

Ang 936

  • Without the True Guru, he does not see God's Virtues; he does not chant the Glorious Virtues of God.
  • Corrected translation: Without the True Guru, Virtues are not discovered as long as he does not contemplate upon the Shabad. (936:9)

Ang 1350

  • Hear my prayer, Lord; You are the Divine Light of the Divine, the Primal, All-pervading Master.
  • Corrected translation: Thought free Silence is Your evening worship; You are the Divine Light of the Divine, the Primal, All-pervading Master. (1350:11)

Complex terminology used

This translation also uses some eccentric terms like, "Sibling of destiny" instead of the simple 'brother' that Guru Ji used. Since the word 'sister' is translated accurately, the use of "Sibling of destiny" appears to be just an effort to be politically correct. However, being politically correct does not justify distortion of Gurbani. Often, "vibrating Naam" or "chanting" is also used instead of "uttering" Naam. We know that Naam cannot be uttered by personal effort alone (270:19, 890:8) much less "vibrated" at will, and mere chanting is clearly denounced in Gurbani (474:11).

The solution is not to write yet another translation. We should recognize the monumental work that is already done. We only need to improve upon the Khalsa Consensus translation. I hope Dr. Sant Singh Ji will soon embark upon revising it.

Daljit Singh Jawa Interpretation

This is an explanation and interpretation of each Pauri or Shabad rather than a line for line translation. This allows the author to go into further explanation as necessary.

This translation comes in 7 volumes. These are available for purchase on Amazon.

You can also read these volumes online for free.

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Volume 5

Volume 6

Volume 7

Click here to read about the author

Into French

Main article: SGGS in french
The Chief Election Commissioner, Dr. M.S Gill releasing the French translation of the Guru Granth Sahib by Dr. Jarnail Singh (second from right) in New Delhi on 22/02/00. Also in photograph are the French Cultural Secretary, Dr. Jean Marie Lafont (extreme right) and Sikh historian Dr J.S Neki (extreme left). Photograph by: Sondeep Shankar

Guru Granth Sahib in French Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, Feb 22, 2000 — The Chief Election Commissioner, Dr M.S. Gill, released today four volumes of the first-ever translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib into French by Toronto based academician, Dr Jarnail Singh at a function organised by Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan, in New Delhi.

Mr Mohinder Singh, Director of the sadan, in a statement, here today said Dr Jarnail Singh was working on the project for the past 15 years. Dr Gill presented the volumes to Dr Jean Marie Lafont of the French embassy in India.

Dr Gill said in his speech it was necessary to translate the message of the gurus, the bhaktas and the saints of India in different Indian and foreign languages to reach the book lovers world over.

See also

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