Trumpp's Translation Of Portions Of The Guru Granth Sahib

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The Adi Granth was published in 1877 and is considered the first translation into English of the Sikh Scriptures

Trumpp's Translation Of Portions Of The Guru Granth Sahib, first published in 1877 under the title The Adi Granth, was the earliest attempt at rendering the Scripture of the Sikhs into another language. The translator, Dr Ernest Trumpp (1828-85), an eminent linguist proficient in several languages, western as well as eastern, was born on 13 March 1828 at Ilsfeldt, a village in Wurtemberg province of Germany. In 1849, owing to political disturbances in his country, he migrated to London where he was employed as assistant librarian at the East India House, later known as India Office.

Sponsored by the Ecclesiastical Mission Society, Trumpp came to India around 1854 to study Indian languages and prepare their grammars and glossaries for use by Christian missionaries. Staying first at Karachi, he learnt Sindhi, and published a Sindhi grammar and a reading book as well as a Persian translation of the common Prayer Book in 1858. From Karachi Trumpp moved to Peshawar where he took up missionary work and studied Pashto. He returned to his home in Germany in 1860.

It was in 1869 that India Office commissioned Dr. Ernest Trumpp to translate into English the sacred book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. He again came out to India, this time staying in Lahore where he set to work with his characteristic assiduity. He first engaged two granthis or Sikh scripture readers to assist him and also consulted some granthis at Amritsar, but was not satisfied with their interpretations. He then took hold of some old commentaries which explained vocabulary, and with their help started a direct study of the entire text, noting down as he proceeded grammatical forms and unfamiliar words. And thus, as Trumpp records in his preface to The Adi Granth, "I gradually drew up a grammar and a dictionary, so that I could refer to every passage again, whenever I found it necessary for the sake of comparison."

Having prepared his tools, he returned to his native town, Wurtemberg, in the spring of 1872 and got started on the translation. He combined this work with his duties as Assistant Professor of Oriental Languages at the University and his study of Ethiopic. By 1876, he had translated Japji, So Darh, So Purakh, Sohila, the Ragas Siri, Majh, Gauri and Asa, sloks of Kabir and Shaikh Farid, Savaiyyas of the Bhatts and sloks of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Then adding a few introductory essays such as "The Life of Nanak according to the JanamSakhis", "Sketch of the Life of the other Sikh Gurus", "Sketch of the Religion of the Sikhs", "On the Composition of the Granth" and "On the Language and the Metres used in the Granth", he submitted his incomplete work for publication under a preface signed by him "Munich, 23 January 1877."

Gifted Scholar and self-righteous bigot

Dr. Ernest Trumpp was a great scholar in his own fields of linguistics, philosophy and religion. But he was a rulist, and he was a self-righteous, (a spot on quote from the Bible on self-righteousness; Isaiah 65:2-5. Verse 5 says: ”Who says, 'Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you! These are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.” He even made sure to have the smoke coming from his nostrils), eleteist Christian bigot who was given to smoking cigars in front of scholarly pious men whose religion forbade the use of tobacco . He failed to bring any measure of empathy to the study of the Sikh faith. As a result his approach was prejudiced and his conclusions offensive, even insulting. To him, "Sikhism is a waning religion, that will soon belong to history...;" "Nanak himself was by no means an independent thinker...;" and "The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, relapsed in many points again into Hinduism, he being a special votary of Durga..." He treated Sikhism as a part of the Hindu complex.

This is clear from his translation of the very first line, the Mul Mantra or the root formula, of the Guru Granth Sahib. He translates Ik Onkar simply as "om!" ignoring the significant figure "1" and the suffix kar. For him ajuni and saibhan are synonymous, both meaning "not produced from the womb." Further, his grammarian's passion kept him from studying the finer shades of Sikh thought. His comments on Sikh history turned out to be equally pejorative. For these reasons, his work did not receive the approval of the Sikhs.

Macauliffe Remarks on Trumpp's Odium Theologicum

In the words of Max Arthur Macauliffe, it "gave mortal offence to the Sikhs by the odium theologicum (lit. theological stink) introduced into it." It must, however, be remembered that Trumpp's The Adi Granth inaugurated exploration in matters Sikh by Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. A major work that followed was Macauliffe's own "The Sikh Religion". As the author records in the Preface, "One of the main objects of the present work is to endeavour to make some reparation to the Sikhs for the insults which he (Trumpp) offered to their Gurus and their religion."

Another fortunate result of Dr Ernest Trumpp's labours was bringing to the attention of the world the existance of a valuable text now commonly referred to as "Puratan Janam Sakhi", the earliest known biography of Guru Nanak. Trumpp found it among some manuscripts forwarded to him from the India Office's Library in 1872 with a note saying, "in hope that some of them may be useful in the project entrusted to you."


  • 1. Darshan Singh, Western Perspective on the Sikh Religion. Delhi, 1991
  • 2. Khurana, Gianeshwar, British Historiography on the Sikh Power in the Punjab. Delhi, 1985
  • 3. Macauliffe, Max Arthur, The Sikh Religion : Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors. Oxford, 1909