A US-based research body has launched a digital initiative to ‘transcreate’ the Guru Granth Sahib and give its free access to readers and scholars looking for the right meanings and interpretations of the sacred text in contemporary English and Punjabi.
Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) launched ‘The Guru Granth Sahib Project’ as it felt that the sacred text was not being consulted to its full potential to benefit the humanity, largely due to inaccessibility. The project also aims to eliminate ‘distortions and willful misinterpretations of the text that have sought to alter or corrupt Guru’s message over time’.
The project has been kicked off with the ‘transcreation’ of ‘Asa ki Var’ (Ik Onkar Satnam), one of the 21 vars recorded in Guru Granth Sahib.
Now its calligraphy, interpretative translation, literal translation and poetic dimension can be accessed on project website- https://www.gurugranthsahib.io/. The team of 31 experts — including women — led by Harinder Singh, project leader, co-founder and senior fellow, SikhRI, say that it may take upto two decades to ‘transcreate’ the entire Guru Granth Sahib.
While ‘translation’ means replacing words from one language to the other, ‘transcreation’ is a wider concept focused on conveying the message and concept in a new language while also maintaining the style, intent, tone etc of the original work.
For instance, the ‘interpretative transcreation’ of ‘Asa Ki Var’ on the project website says, ‘One creative and pervasive force is unique and unparalleled. IkOankar’s identification (Nam) is eternal. IkOankar is the creator of the entire visible and invisible creation; pervades it beyond gender. IkOankar is without fear; there is no other equal to IkOankar. IkOankar is without enmity; there is only IkOankar, no other. IkOankar is formless and beyond the influence of time. IkOankar is unborn; does not take birth or die. IkOankar is self-illuminated and self-existent; not dependent on any other source. IkOankar can only be realized through the grace of Wisdom (Guru)…”
Harinder Singh says that the translations of Guru Granth Sahib currently available in Punjabi or English, limit the “profound depth, cultural opulence and poetic genius” of the original work. “We are disrupting the Sikh theological space, which is currently caught between binaries created by the men. This is the first effort to also include women’s perspective in developing an understanding of the Sikh canonical text enthroned to Guru-perfection. We have started a journey, which might take 20 years or so to complete, to complete research on each and every word of Guru Granth Sahib – its etymology, grammar and meaning,” he says.
Explaining, how they went about transcreating the sacred text, Dr Jaswant Singh, content head of the project, says, “First a team of subject matter experts carve a literal translation and an interpretative transcreation. Then, a commentary is composed. All is done in contemporary English and Punjabi while incorporating musical, poetical and historical dimensions”.
In the first phase, the complete work on ‘Asa Ki Var’ of around 3,00,000 words (around 629 pages), explaining each of its 24 pauris, has been released on the website. It will soon be followed by work on other Banis, said Harinder Singh, adding that the project was conceptualized three years back to connect contemporary audiences with ‘Shabad-wisdom’. “In an era filled with distortions, misinterpretations, desecrations and misinterpretations, the project is aimed at providing a greater opportunity to everyone to develop a personal relationship with Guru Granth Sahib. It is for teenagers, students, scholars, religious heads… basically everyone seeking to know the meaning of each and every word written in the Guru Granth Sahib,” says Harinder Singh.
“Current English translations of the Guru Granth Sahib, though well-intentioned, have oversimplified and reduced its profound depth and illumination. Although written in Gurmukhi, the language of the sacred text is utterly unique and often a mystery to even those literate in Panjabi. We are facilitating new relationships to the Guru Granth Sahib in a method that is highly accessible. Through this, we have the potential of reaching 7 billion people. Interpretation of the Guru Granth Sahib must leave the domain of specific individuals and institutions and instead become a direct connection to the source itself. SikhRI recruited an international team of specialists and subject matter experts to begin a process of transcreation. SikhRI’s transcreation process is meant to generate a rich context to illuminate the language, aesthetics, musicology, history, culture, and philosophy contained within the Guru Granth Sahib,” he adds.
Manvinder Kaur, spokesperson for the project adds, “The initial body of work, Asa Ki Var, was initiated in 2019 as a celebration of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The project advisors estimate that the complete transcreation may take up to 20 years. SikhRI is continuing to recruit the necessary people and resources to execute this work”.
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