‘Some for Ourselves to Keep/Some to Others Give
Surbhi Goel
SONGS OF THE GURU: FROM NANAK TO GOBIND SINGH by Khushwant Singh Viking/Penguin, 2009, 123 pp., 399
August 2009, volume 33, No 8/9

Acollection of spiritual-religious hymns, translated from the vernacular in English always anticipates criticism and even dissatisfaction because the original is deemed sacred and by that rule evokes divinity and any attempt to translate is considered an academic exercise which precludes any spiritual insight.

Khushwant Singh has a different view as he gives a brief but an instructive and informative introduction to Sikhism in the book and makes the case for importance and value of singing hymns, which in turn, were established by Nanak and his first disciple Mardana as the preferred form of practice of Sikhism. The author points out that the practice of listening to religious music in the stillness of the ambrosial hours (before dawn) was prescribed for creating an atmosphere for commune with God and Arpana Caur’s illustration of the jacket of the book suggests this very trance-like state of the practitioner.

Khushwant Singh declares in definite words that Granth Sahib is a source and not an object of prayer or worship and preempts misinterpretation of the collection of verses in the book and subtly suggests to the reader to clear the mind of any preconceived notions about what is to follow. The explanatory introduction also points towards the dexterity of versification and astuteness of the original composers in making use of local idioms and diction. He quotes, as an example, Nanak’s use of rural similes:

We reap according to our measureSome for ourselves to keep, some to others give…

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