Home Essays by IJ Singh SABAD, SABD, SHABAD et al


by nishaan@magazine

Many readers of Gurbani, particular those who proudly see themselves as superbly dedicated, when it comes to reading or writing Gurbani, become aggressively nit picking about the bases of the vocabulary of Gurbani – its pronunciation, precise unchanging interpretation, even possible

translation, meaning, and applications.

Their care is genuine, deserving admiration. Yet, I wonder! Should we be so unchangingly bound to a rich and hoary past, even in grammar and usage. Each and every word then, with even the rarest suspicion of uncommon or untraditional usage is often credited with the stench of emerging sin. Hence, not approved. Is every departure from grammatical rules, enunciation and meaning always to be clearly so labeled, condemned and practice rejected most vigorously?

For Sikhs, every word of the Guru Granth Sahib is selected with total care meant for the holy. Such care is expected from the dedicated Sikh and that is as it ought to be. No departures from the specified specifics like enunciation, no luxurious side roads with the language are to be

entertained. Word(s) are expected to be read and sounded out as specified and translated with similar rigor.

But remember that in usage the Gurmukhi language changes like every language. Changes often reflect very specific, often meaningful variations. For instance, a particular part may indicate significant linguistic changes that are to be noted. For instance, do the particular words relate to Farsi linguistic roots or its Multani antecedents. The enunciation of common words varies, depending on whether you are speaking it in Lahore, Rawalpindi or Peshawar. Is the language of a certain locale more applicable, purer, better or holier? Sometimes yes; certainly not always is what I would say.

Just look at English as a living language that came to life centuries ago but even today continues to grow in usage and vocabulary worldwide. It also continues to absorb words from other languages that enrich the existing English language.

So, I wonder when I see gracefully adorned adults looking wise but acting otherwise when they begin harshly berating others about the correct spelling and pronunciation of some word. How can grownups argue and fight over whether it is SABD or SHABAD? As a community we have to reach at a common enunciation, the place of the word in speech and prose, and the meanings thereof. Languages keep growing unless they are dead. Let’s remember one unending lesson; Reading of the Guru Granth promotes peace and pleasure within and the urge to reread again. That enriches and expands our horizons. We must not deliberately and cheerfully cut Gurmukhi down to its narrowest, smallest existence.

I.J. Singh

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