Comparison of the Five Complete
Translations of Sri Guru Granth Sahib

by Singh Sahib Dr. Sant Singh Khalsa

1. Bhai Gopal Singh Translation

The first complete translation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib into English was provided by Dr. Gopal Singh; this was completed around 1960. It was published in a four volume set, and has received wide distribution. The 'International Edition' published by the World Sikh University Press in 1978, has a light blue cover.

Dr. Gopal Singh's stellar reputation for scholarly work in service of the Dharma is well deserved. In fact, the introduction to the work, in the first of the four volumes, is a remarkable work in and of itself. Especially readable and worthwhile is Section II: On the Philosophy of Sikh Religion. In this treatise on comparative religion, he traces the common threads of religious thought throughout the ages, giving one a deeper appreciation of Sikh Dharma. His brief explanation of the Kundalini and Yogic traditions is well-done.

His grammar, however, is somewhat antiquated and distracting.

For example:

"Yea Manifests He in a myriad ways."
"For several births thou wert a mere worm."
"He, (whose way is this,) Knows his Master and Compassion comes into him, And becomes Eternal he: he dies not thereafter."

He included excellent footnotes explaining legendary persons, Hindu mythology and local folk idioms, and these often reveal more clearly the true meaning of the Guru's Word. Often, he explains the linguistic derivation of a word or idiom. From his thorough understanding of comparative religion, he brings to light the common threads which run through Sikhism and other religions.

Page breaks are only roughly approximated to the original, and the numbering system of the original is roughly preserved, although there are a large number of mistakes in the numbers.

2. Manmohan Singh Translation

A very different translation was published just a short time after Dr. Gopal Singh's work came out. Back in 1948, after Sardar Manmohan Singh, a devout Sikh, lost everything worldly in the partition of India and Pakistan, he began work on what would be a lasting legacy. He worked on this for 12 years, completing it in 1960. This is the ëeight-volume setí with the original Gurmukhi, side-by-side with translations into English and Panjabi, with nearly every word individually cross-referenced across the three languages. The S.G.P.C. published and distributed this 8-volume set in a dark blue cover, starting with the first volume in 1962, and completing the eighth in 1969, the year in which Manmohan Singh passed on.

For the first time, Sikhs all around the world had access to a most practical resource in understanding the Word of the Guru. It has become common practice in all parts of the world to install this 8 volume set as Guru, and read out the Hukam in both Gurmukhi and English, and sometimes in Panjaabi as well. Many Gurdwaras, especially larger ones, have a single volume Bir installed, and use this 8-volume set to read out the translation.

Page breaks appear to be precisely placed, but are not correlated to the original with any precision, and there are many typographical errors. There are also small passages of the original which are omitted in this work-again, typographical mistakes.

Overall, this work represents a distinctly more accurate and direct translation of the Guru's Word, although it includes a large number of antiquated, idiosyncratic expressions more common to 18th and 19th century British India-words like mammon (for Maya), myrmidon, collyrium, mumpers, gnosis (for knowledge), apostates, sans (French for without), etc. Much of his grammar is so dated as to be distracting, and even confusing to the modern ear.

For example:

"Raising, the embankments of my mind's field, I gaze at the high sky or mansion. When Divine devotion enters bride's mind-home, the Friendly Guest pays her a visit."
He, who slanders Thy attendant, him Thou chrusheth and destroyest".

In spite of these difficulties, the translation has a much deeper impact, and a more obvious accuracy, than the Bhai Gopal Singh translation. It is very poetic, and conveys a sense of humility and devotion.

3. Gurbachan Singh Talib Translation

According to his own introduction to the book, Gurbachan Singh Talib of Panjabi University, Patiala, was assigned in 1977 the task of compiling a new translation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. It is grammatically the least satisfying - that is, the most distracting -of the three works so far.

For example:

"In listening to laudation of the Name etemal find I life."
"To whomsoever the vision of unicity does grant, propped by the holy congregation, of the Lord's love has joy"

He does include many useful footnotes, shedding some light on the Guru's Teachings. Overall, however, it adds little to the Manmohan Singh translation, and it has not superseded either of the previous translations. (This is the translation found on the commercial CD Scriptures & the Heritage of Sikhs - ssb)

4. Pritam Singh Chahil Translation

More recently, in 1993, another work was printed and made available. Pritam Singh Chahil printed the Manmohan Singh Edition back in Chandigarh, in the 1960's; in 1986, he was inspired by a Gurdwara service in Berkeley, in which the '8 volume set' was installed as Guru, and 'Shabad sheets' were passed out to the Sangat. He had a vision that the entire Guru should be printed in this three-column format, and so he set about to do it. He completed it in 1990, and in 1993, it became available.

It is in a three-column format, with Gurmukhi on the left, English translation on the right, and Romanised transliteration in the center of each page. He has made a fairly close, but not exact, approximation of page breaks, and preserved the numbering system fairly well.

This translation is a revised version of the Manmohan Singh translation, and as thus, it is the finest complete translation of the Guru yet published; its unique format allows the Guru's Word to be approximated in pronunciation, even by those who do not yet read Gurmukhi. However, the transliteration system used is the old British-English transliteration, wherein the word for - KAYSH - meaning 'hair' - is transliterated as KESH. Most modern readers will pronounce KESH to rhyme with 'mesh', thereby mispronouncing this important word. This is the same transliteration system by which most of us mispronounced -'Nit Naym'; {We read the transliteration 'NIT NEM', and we mispronounced it.} *'NIT NAYM' and KAYSH' are the correct pronunciations.

Also, some of the more distracting idioms and antiquated expressions of the Manmohan Singh translation are copied verbatim.

It is distributed in two forms: a four-volume set, and also a single volume. It is eminently suitable for installation in Gurdwara. It is a large volume, 12 by 17 inches (34 inches wide when opened). It is also a very valuable tool in the process of learning to read and understand Gurmukhi, although it does not have the word -to-word notations of the Manmohan Singh edition.

5. Khalsa Consensus Translation

This translation is already available on CD (and now on The Sikhism Home Page -ssb). It is based on all the available translations, working primarily from the Manmohan Singh translation. The objectives are:

first, to achieve an accurate translation of the Guru's Word;
to present the Guru's Word in an elegant format which follows the original as much as possible;
to eliminate the antiquated idioms which are so distracting to the modern ear,
to preserve the word order and symmetry of the original whenever possible: and
to achieve the immediacy of impact which the Guru's Word deserves in translation.

In this version, we are preserving exact page breaks to the original, along with all of the numbers at the ends of lines.