Among the most striking images emerging from the flight of Sikhs from Afghanistan have been those of Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri carrying on his head, on Tuesday, one of the saroops of the holy Guru Granth Sahib flown in from that country.
Saroop is a physical copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, also called Bir in Punjabi. Every Bir has 1,430 pages, which are referred to as Ang. The verses on every page remain the same.
The Sikhs consider the saroop of Guru Granth Sahib a living guru and treat it with utmost respect. They believe that all the 10 Gurus were the same spirit in different bodies, and the Guru Granth Sahib is their eternal physical and spiritual form.
It was the fifth Sikh master, Guru Arjan Dev, who compiled the first Bir of the Guru Granth Sahib in 1604, and installed it at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Later, the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, added verses penned by the ninth master, his father Guru Tegh Bahadur, and compiled the Bir for the second and last time. It was in 1708 that Guru Gobind Singh declared the Guru Granth Sahib the living Guru of the Sikhs.
“Guru Granth Sahib is a compendium of hymns written by six Sikh gurus,15 saints, including Bhagat Kabir, Bhagat Ravidas, Sheikh Farid and Bhagat Namdev, 11 Bhatts (balladeers) and four Sikhs. The verses are composed in 31 ragas,” said Giani Harpreet Singh, Akal Takht Jathedar.
The installation and transportation of Guru Granth Sahib is governed by a strict code of conduct called rehat maryada. Under ideal circumstances, five baptised Sikhs are required to transfer the Guru Granth Sahib from one place to another. As a mark of respect, the Bir of the Guru Granth Sahib is carried on the head, and the person walks barefoot.
Whenever a devout sees the Bir of Guru Granth Sahib passing by, s/he removes her shoes and bows.
A ceremonial whisk is waved high over the Guru Granth Sahib either on the move or while reading from it.
Gurdwaras have a separate resting place for the Saroop, called ‘Sukh Asan Sthan’ or ‘Sachkhand’ where the Guru rests at night. This takes place at the end of the day when the holy book is ceremoniously shut and rested. In the morning, the saroop is again installed in a ceremony called ‘prakash’. Many tourists specially come to watch the prakash and sukha asan ceremony of the Guru Granth Sahib at the Golden Temple.
There was a tradition among Punjabis, both Sikhs and Hindus, to copy the Guru Granth Sahib by hand and produce multiple copies. The Udasi and Nirmla sects also played a role in making handwritten copies of the Birs until the British introduced the printing press.
The British also published several small copies of the Guru Granth Sahib for their Sikh soldiers so that they could carry these with them in the battlefield.
Nowadays, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has the sole rights to publish the Birs of the Guru Granth Sahib, and this is done at Amritsar.
Old and worn Birs of the Guru Granth Sahib are brought to Goindwal Sahib in Tarn Taran district, where they are cremated. These days, only printed Birs are cremated as the SGPC and other Sikh bodies have been trying to protect the few handwritten Birs that remain.
“There were 13 saroops of the Guru Granth Sahib in Afghanistan, of which six were already shifted to India earlier. Three have been shifted today (Monday) and now just three more remain in Afghanistan. Those too will be shifted soon,” said Chhabol Singh, member Karte Parwan Gurdwara Committee.
The previous seven saroops were transferred following an attack on Gurudwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul on March 25, 2020, when an Islamic State gunman stormed inside and killed at least 25 Sikhs.
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