Gopal Singh

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Dr Gopal Singh

Dr. Gopal Singh (Dardi) (1917-1990), an eminent Punjabi writer, poet, journalist and critic, was born in Amritsar, Punjab, India to a respected Sikh family was were tradesman. His father's name was Bhai Atmaram Singh. He did his M.A. in English at Khalsa College, Amritsar and for some time edited the weekly magazine Mauji of S.S. Charan Singh 'Shahid' after his death. While working as a lecturer in D.A.V. and Khalsa Colleges at Rawalpindi, he began to take interest in politics and founded an English weekly paper "Liberator".

After partition he also worked for nearly a year and a half as editor in the Publication Bureau of the Punjab University (then named as East Punjab University) stationed at Solan, Shimla. He got his Ph.D. degree in 1943 from Punjab University, Lahore for his thesis "New Trends in Punjabi Literature". He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha and was then sent as Ambassador to Bulgaria in 1970. Then he was posted as the Lt. Governor of Goa, Daman and Dieu. He was honoured by the Punjab Government in 1961 as an outstanding writer of Punjabi. His pen name is 'Dardi'.

Basically a poet and a critic, he also wrote biographies of Guru Gobind Singh in 1966 and Guru Nanak Dev in 1969 respectively. His monumental work and the most renowned in the Sikh community is the translation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib into English published originally in two volumes.

His other prominent works are: Romantic Punjabi kavi (1933), Jhanan (poetry, 1943), Punjabi sahit da itihas (1947), Hanire sawire (poetry, 1949), Sahit diparakh (1950) and Sri Guru Sahib di sahitak visheshta (1958) in the field of literary criticism.


The Sikh statesman Dr Gopal Singh wrote an extended poem, The Man Who Never Died, which won the approval of the Pope as speaking of Christ in a way that Christians had failed to do in two thousand years.

The first Sikh to undertake the task of translating the Sri Guru Granth Sahib into English was Dr. Gopal Singh Dardi of Amritsar. He translated the scripture into English prose. The translations were accurate but did not attempt to capture the melodic elements in the original hymns. He had undoubted ability to handle the task. He presented his translations to the Pope. It is also claimed that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Later he was asked by Indira Gandhi to stand as a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliment) and then as governor of Goa and Nagaland.

First Translation of SGGS

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.

When Miss Pearl S. Buck, a Nobel laureate was given a copy of the translation, this is what she said:

I have studied the scriptures of the great religions, but I do not find elsewhere the same power of appeal to the heart and mind as I find here in these volumes. They are compact in spite of their length and are a revelation of the concept of God to the recognition and indeed the insistence upon the practical needs of the human body. There is something strangely modern about these scriptures and this puzzled me until I learned that they are in fact comparatively modern, compiled as late as the 16th century when explorers were beginning to discover the globe upon which we all live is a single entity divided only by arbitrary lines of our making. Perhaps this sense of unity is the source of power I find in these volumes. They speak to a person of any religion or of none. They speak for the human heart and the searching mind.

Book Review

  • Book: The Religion Of The Sikhs
  • Author: Dr. Gopal Singh
  • Publisher: Asia Publishing House, Bombay
  • Reviewed By: R.H. Lesser, The Cathedral, Ajmer, Rajasthan.

I expected this book. After his magnificient poem on Christ - "The Man Who Never Died", the kindest compliment that anyone of one religion paid another - one expected Dr. Gopal Singh to write about his own religion. What surprises me about this book is that it is not a poem. There are many books written on Sikhism and its various aspects but as far as I know, no great poem (apart from the Guru Granth Sahib). I am serious in my suggestion, for poetry and religion have this in common, that they rely more on intuitive experience than on reason. Yet poetry implies so much more than prose describes and if well done can be a much more attractive way of purveying religious truths.

While waiting for Dr. Gopal Singh's great poem on Sikhism let us thank him for his readable, if somewhat prosaic, description of the Sikh religion. Certainly the most interesting section of the book is the historical introduction. Briefly, he draws the fascinating story of Sikhism from its slow gentle beginnings under the remarkable founder Guru Nanak through the stormy interludes under the gentle, saintly, poetic Arjun to the warlike conclusion under Guru Gobind Singh who finally built up the Sikh community.

I must confess I found the titles of the succeeding chapters somewhat puzzling. "The Nature of Reality," "The World of Man: Reality or Illusion?" etc. The titles are sufficiently vague to include almost anything and they almost do. The first chapter for instance has a bit of mysticism, a bit of prayer, a bit of history, a parable or two, a discussion of the problems of evil, to mention but a few of the themes treated. In a book like this the themes should be better and more systematically organized. The most quotable extract is his bit on conversion.

Sin, according to Guru Nanak, is not a permanent malady, only a temporary misdemeanour which can be put right.

"Whom shall I call bad when there's not another without Thee?"

Most of the stories narrated of Guru Nanak converting cut-throats (like Sajjan) and rich egocentrics (like Malik Bhago), marauding emperors like Babur and clever Brahmins (like Chaturdas of Banaras), whose load of knowledge barred their way to wisdom, tell us of their instant illumination. For, Guru Nanak did not convert them to a new set of dogmas, but only to themselves, their inner natures, which due to their evil ways hardening into dead habit, had closed the windows of their Self upon itself. He had only to give them a peep into where their inner sanctuary was, that they saw their real selves truly, for the first time, and were instantly illumined. As a result, the emperors stopped bloodshed and promoted justice, the usurpers distributed their ill-gotten gains amongst the poor, the learned shed their ego of book-knowledge, and the dogmatists abandoned their exclusive dogmas in favour of an all-inclusive order. For,

"When God illumines a man's inner being he transforms him like a Philosopher's stone: baser metals are transmuted into gold."

What is Realization? What precisely is the discipline that Sikhism inculcates:

"It is the yoga of the Name (or Nam-yoga). It is not to be confused with the bhakti yoga (loving adoration of a personal God - Vishnu - through His incarnations), for the yoga of the Name is an Integral yoga, embracing along with bhakti (of the one God), the yogas of disinterested action ("Karam") and gnosis ("Gyana"). Again it is a yoga not of the recluse or the runaways, but of the world-aware, socially dynamic people, acting their parts as detachedly as possible, and caring not for the fruits thereof, but dedicating all their secular activity to God, who is the prime Mover of all their actions and who is the final arbiter as to how he would reward the duty performed in His Name and on His behalf.

"Most people confuse the yoga of the Name with utterance of God's Names, or His attributes, but this is only a part of it."

Says Nanak, the third:

"Everyone uttereth the Name of God, but utterance is not realization. It is only when God abideth in the mind, by the Guru's Grace, that one gathereth the fruit."

"Says Nanak: Why shoutest thou God's Name like mad, for he who hath attained God hath hid him in the heart."

What precisely is this Name? The author is not very enlightening:

"This Name is not a particular name or contingent attribute of God; it is 'infinite' and 'without beginning' ("Anand", "Anant"). 'It stayeth ever, when everything else is subject to change' (Slokas M.9). 'It is the Creator of all' (Suhi M.3). 'Its truths are applicable to all castes, colours, creeds, climes and ages.' (Suhi M.5). And yet it is inexpressible. It could not, therefore, be identified with mere words - their sounds or even contingent meaning. And yet it is a part of our inner core. We really, then, are 'the beggars who come to beg at our own doors' (Ramkali M.3). 'It imports us into the land of perpetual ecstasy' (M.1) 'but if within us is evil, we attain not unto the Name' (Sri Rag M.3)."

He continues:

"So the Name is the realization of God's essence within the core of one's being; it is self consciousness merging imperceptibly and effortlessely into the state of Super-conscious (Sahj-Samadhi), for, 'it is through God's Grace that His Name - or the essential Essence - becomes manifest to us.'(Sri Rag M.3).

"Then whatever one doeth is worship - even one's laughter and tears are a worship of the Supreme!" 'It is through the service of the True Guru that one attaineth unto the Name' (Melhar M.3), and 'the Guru's service consists of the loving adoration of the Guru-God.'(Sri Rag M.3).

This is not to say that Guru is God. Nanak vehemently denies this:

"Says Nanak, burnt be the tongue that sayeth, 'God falleth into the womb!'

Guru Gobind Singh also gave a stern warning:

"He who calleth me God will burn in the fires of hell. I am only the servant of the Supreme Being come to witness His play."

In the light of this and similar passages, the quotations which Dr. Gopal Singh brings as evidence of the identity of the Guru with God must be interpreted metaphorically.

Sikhism according to the author denies that an individual must expiate for a sin either original or those done in a previous existence.

If the most interesting part of the book is the introduction, surely the most valuable is the last, which is in fact a long collection of prayers and meditations from the Sikh Scriptures:

O Thou, Our Eternal, Transcendent God; O Thou Destroyer of sin; O Thou Perfect One pervading all; O Thou Slayer of sorrow; O Thou Treasure of virtue; O Thou Formless, Absolute One; O my Companion, the Refuge of all; O Thou the Treasure of good; O Thou Transcendent Lord, O my Master who is and shall forever be; O Thou the Eternal friend of the saints; O Thou the Support of the supportless; O Thou, our Lord, our God, I am thy slave without virtue: bless me with Thy Name that I may weave it into my heart. (Gauri Bavan Akhari, M. 5-55)

The blessed humility of Guru Nanak is evident in the following passage:

"I am shorn of all merit, O Lord, then, how shall I attain unto Thee? Neither have I beauty nor lustrous eyes, nor family, nor culture, nor sweet speech. I have neither intution nor intellect, yea, I'm ignorant and unwise. Bless me Thou, O my Lord that I repair to Thy Feet. Of what avail is my cleverness if Thou, my Lord, lovest me not, and clinging to the illusion I am led astray by doubt? It is only when I lose my ego that I merge in Thee, and become Thy bride, blest with all the nine treasures of the earth. Birth after birth I was separated from Thee and I grieved. Now hold me by Thy hand, O my love, my God, my King."

See also


  • 1. Amarjit Singh, Punjabi sahit da itihas—Qissa kal, Amritsar, 1981.
  • 2. Kohli, S.S., Punjabi Sahit da Itihas, LUDHIANA, 1955.
  • 3. Mohan Singh, A History of Punjabi Literature, Amritsar, 1956.
  • 4. Ramdev, Jaginder Singh (ed.), Punjabi Likhari Kosh, Jullundur, 1964.
  • 5. Sekhon, S.S. .and K.S. Duggal, A History of Punjabi Literature, Delhi, 1992.