Direct Comparison of Translations

by Singh Sahib Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa

It might be illuminating to compare passages in the various translations.
Here is the Mul Mantra and the first Pauree of Jap Ji in the various translations:

Original Gurmukhi:

Bhai Gopal Singh Translation:

By the Grace of the One Supreme Being, The Eternal,
The All-pervading Purusha, The Creator, Without Fear, Without Hate,
the Being Beyond Time, Non-incarnated, Self-existent, The Enlightener.

True in the Beginning, True in the Primeval age
True He is and True He shall be. [1]
Thinking avails not, how so hard one thinks;
Nor silence avails, howsoever one shrinks
Into oneself. Nor hunger goes
With the (Pleasure) loads of the worlds.
Of a myriad cleverness, not one works.
How then to be True? How rend the Veil of sham, untruth?
His Will (forsooth)
Inborn in us, ingrained,
Thou follow.
(Thus is Truth attained). [1]

Manmohan Singh Translation:

There is but one God. True is His Name, creative His personality
and immortal His form. He is without fear, sans enmity, unborn
and self-illumined. By the Guru's grace (He is obtained).

Embrace His meditation.
True in the prime, True in the beginning of ages,
True He is even now and True He, verily, shall be, O Nanak!
By pondering, man cannot have a conception of God,
even though he may ponder over lacs of time.
Even though one be silent and remains absorbed
constantly he obtains not mind's silence.
The hunger of the hungry departs not, even
though he may pile up loads of the worlds (valuables).
Man may possess thousands and lacs of wits,
but not even one goes with (him) or (avails him in the Lord's court).
How can we be true and how can the screen of untruth be rent?
By obeying, O Nanak! the pre-ordained order of the Lord of will.

Gurbachan Singh Talib Translation:

He is the Sole Supreme Being; of eternal manifestation;
Creator, immanent Reality; Without Fear;
Without Rancour; Timeless Form; Unincarnated;
Self-Existent; Realized by grace of the holy Preceptor.
Japu (Prayer-Chant)

In primal Time, in all Time, was the Creator;
Nothing is real but the Eternal.
Nothing shall last but the Eternal. (1)
Ritual purification, though million-fold, may not purify the mind;
Nor may absorption in trance still it, however long and continuous.
Possessing worlds multiple quenches not the rage of avarice and desire.
A thousand million feats of intellect bring not emancipation.
How then to become true to the Creator?
how demolish the wall of illusion?
Through obedience to His Ordinance and Will.
Saith Nanak :This blessing too is pre-ordained. (1)

Pritam Singh Chahil Translation:

The Creator of all is One, the only One. Truth is his name.
He is the doer of everything. He is without fear and without enmity.
His form is immortal. He is unborn and self-illumined.
He is realized by Guru's grace.

He was True in the beginning. He was True through all ages.
He is True even now. Nanak says, He shall ever be True.
1. By pondering, one cannot have the conception of God even though
one may think million times. Even though one be silent and remain
constantly absorbed, He cannot be known by this siIence.

The hunger of the hungry does not appease even though one may collect
loads of worldly valuables. One may have millions of skills but none goes
with him in the hereafter. How can one become truthful and dispel the veil
of illusion? Nanak says by obeying the pre-ordained order of the Lord and
surrendering to His Will. 1.

Khalsa Consensus Translation:

One Universal Creator God.
The Name is Truth.
Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred.
Image Of The Undying, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent,
By Guru's Grace,

Chant And Meditate:
True In The Primal Beginning. True Throughout The Ages.
True Here And Now. O Nanak, Forever And Ever True. II 1 II

By thinking, He cannot be reduced to thought, even by thinking hundreds
of thousands of times. By remaining silent, inner silence is not obtained,
even by remaining lovingly absorbed deep within. The hunger of the hungry
is not appeased, even by piling up loads of worldly goods. Hundreds of
thousands of clever tricks, but not even one of them will go along with you in
the end. So how can one become truthful? And how can the veil of illusion be
torn away? O Nanak, He has written that you shall obey the Hukam of His
Command, and walk in the Way of His Will. II 1 II

Critique of the Above Translations:

In review of Bhai Gopal Singh's translation, what sticks out most are the forced rhymes, achieved by breaking up sutras and sentence structure, and the frequently inserted parenthetical phrases. These create unavoidable distractions for the reader. Moreover, his use of word such as 'howso' and 'forsooth', words not in common usage, further detract from the impact of the rendering.

Manmohan Singh's translation is perhaps even more obtuse to the modern reader. He uses words such as 'lacs' (meaning tens of thousands), which will be understandable to the Indian reader, but not to those who are not conversant with either Panjaabi or Gurmukhi. He also includes words such as 'sans', a French term meaning 'without'. This term, unfortunately, will be meaningless to the less erudite reader. As mentioned above, other antiquated expressions abound, such as apostates, myrmidons, mumpers, mammon, etc.

He often uses phrases which are not grammatically correct, such as, 'Even though one be silent and remains absorbed constantly he obtains not mind's silence.' And, similarly to Bhai Gopal Singh, he inserts parenthetical phrases of words not actually in the original Gurmukhi, which are intended to more fully elucidate the meaning of the passage. Again, the use of parentheses is usually distracting.

Gurbachan Singh Talib takes much wider license with the Guru's Word, so that the original is often not even locatable in the translation. While all others have translated 'soch' in the first Pauree of Jap Ji as 'thought' or 'conceptualization', he alone translates it as 'ritual purification'. And when translating 'Hai bhee sach, Naanak hosee bhee sach', instead of the accepted translation of 'sach' as'Truth', he translates these lines as, 'Nothing is real but the Eternal. Nothing shall last but the Eternal.' Instead of parentheses to denote words and phrases added to the translation which are not in the original, he uses italics, which is still distracting.

His grammatical phrasing also frequently fails to conform to standard usage: 'How then to become true to the Creator? how demolish the wall of illusion?'

As with the previous translations, these grammatical errors stick out to the well-versed reader of English, and detract from their impact.

Pritam Singh Chahil's translation more closely approximates readable English in its phraseology and idioms, and this translation is now the premiere translation, the standard by which others will be compared. But his grammar, once again, falls short of the mark: For example,'. . . even though one may think million times.', and 'The hunger of the hungry does not appease even though one may collect loads of worldly valuables.'

The Khalsa Consensus Translation has been written in contemporary English, maintaining consistent grammar. The idioms are those in common usage, and word order reflects the original whenever possible. Repeated words in the original are faithfully repeated in the translation. For example: 'Simaro simar simar sukh paavao' -'Meditate, meditate, meditate in remembrance, and find peace.' Page breaks are exactly correlated with the original single-volume Bir.