The Authors of Sikhism's Holy Scripture, The Guru Granth

Sri Gobind Singh on horseback
Tenth Guru Gobind Singh on horseback with his falcon and attendants.

Wellcome Collection gallery/CC BY 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism's holy scripture and everlasting Guru, is a collection of 1430 Ang (a respectful term for pages), containing 3,384 poetic hymns, or shabads, including swayas, sloks, and vars, or ballads, composed by 43 authors in 31 raags of in the melodious hue of classical Indian music.

The Authors of Guru Granth Sahib

  • Four Sikhs
  • Seven Gurus
  • Fifteen Bhagats
  • Seventeen Bhatts

Fifth Guru Arjun Dev compiled the first draft of scripture known as Adi Granth in 1604 and installed it in Harmandir, known today as the Golden Temple. Adi Granth remained with the gurus until the imposter Dhir Mal, took it hoping that by possessing the Granth, he could succeed as guru.

Tenth Guru Gobind Singh dictated the entire scripture of Adi Granth from memory to his scribes adding his father's hymns and one of his own compositions. Upon his death, he appointed the scripture Siri Guru Granth Sahib eternal Guru of the Sikhs. His remaining compositions are in the collection Dasam Granth.

Sikh Bard Authors

Descended from minstrel families, Sikh bards associated closely with the Gurus.

  • Mardana—3 sloks. Mardana a minstrel from a Muslim family played the rebab and accompanied First Guru Nanak Dev on his travels.
  • Satai—1 var or ballad with Balwand. Satai played the rebeck in the court of Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Gur Raam Das and Guru Arjun Dev.
  • Balwand—1 var or ballad with Satai. Balwand played drums in the court of Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Gur Raam Das, and Guru Arjun Dev.
  • Baba Sunder—1 shabad. Baba Sunder, the Great grandson of Second Guru Amar Das composed a hymn titled "Sad" by request of Fifth Guru Arjun Dev following the death of his father, Fourth Guru Raam Das.

Sikh Guru Authors

Seven Sikh gurus composed shabads and sloks which together make up the majority of the collections featured in Guru Granth Sahib:

  • First Guru Nanak Dev—974 shabads and sloks.
  • Second Guru Angad Dev—62 sloks.
  • Third Guru Amar Das—907 shabads and sloks.
  • Fourth Guru Raam Das—679 shabads and sloks.
  • Fifth Guru Arjun Dev—2,218 shabads and sloks.
  • Ninth Guru Teg Bahadar—59 shabads and 56 sloks.
  • Tenth Guru Gobind Singh—1 slok.

Bhagat Authors

The 15 bhagats were holy men of various religious affiliations whose compositions were collected by the early Sikh Gurus. Bhagat bani became part of the Adi Granth scripture compiled by Guru Arjun Dev and retained by Guru Gobind Singh:

  • Bhagat Beni—3 shabads. A recluse scholar, Beni spent much time absorbed in meditation.
  • Bhagat Bhikan—2 shabads. Sheik Bhikan, a Sufi saint, and scholar of Islam, believed in the divine healing power of meditation on the divine.
  • Bhagat Dhanna—4 shabads. A Hindu Jat and disciple of Ramanand, Dhanna renounced idolatry in favor of worshiping one divine entity.
  • Bhagat Farid—4 shabads and 130 sloks. Sheik Farid, a Sufi saint of Islamic origin renowned for his poetry lived a life of simplicity and contemplation on the divine.
  • Bhagat Jaidev—2 shabads. Born to a Brahman family, Jaidev became a famed poet in the court of a Bengali king but lived the sparse life as a wanderer until he eventually married.
  • Bhagat Kabir—292 shabads, 3151 lines of verse. Adopted by a Muslim family, Kabir studied With a Hindu master Ramanand. He married and raised a family. Kabir wrote hymns denouncing caste, idolatry, and ritual.
  • Bhagat Namdev—61 shabads, 703 lines of verse. Renowned as a Hindu saint, Namdev married early and had children. He traveled much of his life and settled in Punjab for about 20 years.
  • Bhagat Parmanand—1 shabad. A Hindu devotee of Krishna, Parmanand professed the belief in one divine being.
  • Bhagat Pipa—1 shabad. Born a Hindu raja, Pipa renounced his kingdom and riches to study with Ramanand and devoted himself to a spiritual life of humble simplicity.
  • Bhagat Ramanand—1 shabad. Born a Hindu Bhramin, Bhagat Ramandand denounced the caste system and began the Bhakti reformation. His disciples included Bhagats Dhanna, Kabir, Pipa, Ravi Das, and Sain.
  • Bhagat Ravi Das—41 shabads. Born to a Hindu cobbler of low caste, Ravi Das rose to spiritual heights as a disciple of Ramanand and in turn had many of his own disciples to whom he advised simple pious living.
  • Bhagat Sadhna—1 shabad. A meat seller of an Islamic origin, Sadhna renounced his vocation and left his family to become a wandering Sufi saint. His relations with Hindus angered the Quazis, who order his death.
  • Bhagat Sain—1 shabad. Of Hindu origin, Sain married and worked as personal attendant to Raja Ram. Ministering to the court, he sang and played the rebeck. He joined with Ramanand's reformation denouncing caste. Raja Ram established a lineage of Bhagat Sain devotees.
  • Bhagat Surdas—1 shabad. A blind student of Hindu philosophy, the Brahmin Surdas promoted the Bakhti reformation. He could recite the entire Vedic scripture, wrote 100,000 compositions and held the position of the foremost singer in his order at temple Srinath.
  • Bhagat Trilochan—4 shabads. Of Hindu origin Trilochan denounced superficial ritual. He and his wife devoted their attentions to various Saints.

Bhatt Authors

A troupe of 17 minstrels and singers of ballads in the poetic style of Swaya, the Bhatts descended from the lineage of Hindu bard Bhagirath through ninth generation Raiya and sons, Bhikha, Sokha, Tokha, Gokha, Chokha, and Toda. The Bhatt compositions honor the gurus and their families.

  • Bal—5 swayas. Son of Tokha.
  • Bhal—1 swaya. Son of Sokha.
  • Bhikha—2 swaya. Son of Raiya.
  • Das—1 Swaya.
  • Gyand—5 swayas. Introduced "Waheguru" as an expression of the divine.
  • Harbans—2 swayas. Eldest son of Gokha.
  • *Jal—1 swaya. Son of Bhikha.
  • Jalan—2 swayas.
  • *Jalap—4 swayas.
  • *Kal—49 swayas. The most educated of the troupe, and a son of Bhatt Bhikha.
  • *Kalshar—4 swayas.
  • Kirat—8 swayas. Son of Bhatt Bhikha.
  • Mathura—10 swayas. Son of Bhatt Bhikha
  • Nal—6 swayas.
  • Sal—3 swayas. Son of Sokha brother.
  • Sewak—7 swayas.
  • Tal—1 swaya.

Eleven Bhatts led by Kalshar including, Bal, Bhal, Bhika, Gyand, Harbans, Jalap, Kirat, Mathura, Nal and Sal, lived in Punjab by the bank of River Sarsvati, and frequented the courts of Third Guru Amar Das and Fourth Guru Raam Das.

*Because of similar names and obscure records, some historians believe there were as few as 11, or as many as 19 Bhatts, who contributed to compositions included in Guru Granth Sahib.

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Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Authors of Sikhism's Holy Scripture, The Guru Granth." Learn Religions, Aug. 28, 2020, Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2020, August 28). The Authors of Sikhism's Holy Scripture, The Guru Granth. Retrieved from Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "The Authors of Sikhism's Holy Scripture, The Guru Granth." Learn Religions. (accessed April 1, 2023).