Engaging with the Guru

Sikh Beliefs and Practices of Guru Granth Sahib


  • Kristina Myrvold Lund University




Sikhs, Sikhism, Guru Granth, Adi Granth, ritual, sacred texts


The Sikhs have perhaps taken the concept of a sacred scripture much further than any other religious community by treating the Guru Granth Sahib as a living guru. This essay analyzes various religious beliefs and practices by which contemporary Sikhs construct and maintain conceptions of their scripture as a guru with spiritual authority. A distinction is made between religious practices that serve to mediate and interpret the semantic content of the scripture, performative acts that are enacted to transform the social world, and rituals that aim to give the scripture a careful ministration and celebrate different stages of its worldly life. The various ritualized uses of Guru Granth Sahib can be approached as external strategies by which the Sikhs personify their scripture and make it socially alive as a living guru.


Austin, J. L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Babb, Lawrence A. 1983. “The Physiology of Redemption.” History of Religions 22(4): 293–312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/462927

Bauman, Richard and Charles L. Briggs. 1990. “Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life.” Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 59–88. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.an.19.100190.000423

Bawa, Ujagar Singh. 2006. Bhai Sahib Bhai Nand Lal Ji: Biography and Writings. Delhi: Hemkunt Publishers.

Bell, Catherine. 1992. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Briggs, Charles L. and Richard Bauman. 1992. “Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2): 131–172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/jlin.1992.2.2.131

De Castro, Eduardo Viveiros. 2004. “Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Onthologies.” Common Knowledge 10(3): 463–484. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-10-3-463

Dusenbery, Verne A. 1992. “The Word as Guru: Sikh Scripture and the Translation Controversy.” History of Religion 31(4): 385–402. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/463294

Facebook. 2010a. “Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji our Living Guru – Not Just a Book”, available at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=29961024825. Accessed 21 November 2010.

Facebook. 2010b. “Guru Granth Sahib – The True Living Guru.” Available at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Guru-Granth-Sahib-The-True-Living-Guru/139778176040374. Accessed 21 November 2010.

Facebook. 2010c. “Mere Guru Dhan Dhan Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji Han”[My Guru is the Respected Guru Granth Sahib]. Available at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=148169765220237. Accessed 21 November 2010.

Gell, Alfred. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Groendahl, Boris. 2010. “Sikh Sikh Men Sent to Prison for Austria Temple Attack.” Reuters. 28 September. Available at http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-51784920100928. Accessed 21 November, 2010.

Harvey, Graham. 2006. Animism: Respecting the Living World. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kang, Yoonhee. 2006. “’Staged’ Rituals and ‘Veiled’ Spells: Multiple Language Ideologies and Transformations in Petalangan Verbal Magic.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 16: 1–22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/jlin.2006.16.1.001

Kaur, Guninder. 1995. The Guru Granth Sahib: Its Physics and Metaphysics. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers.

Kaur Singh, Nikky-Guninder. 1992. “The Myth of the Founder: The Janamsakhis and the Sikh Tradition.” History of Religious 31(4): 329–343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/463291

———. 1993. The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511557415

———. 2008. “Guru Granth: The Quintessential Sikh Metaphor.” Postscripts 4(2): 157–176. Kohli, Surinder Singh. 2000. Ritualism and Its Rejection in the Sikhism. Amritsar: Singh Brothers.

———, trans. 2003. Sri Dasam Granth Sahib (Vol. 1). Birmingham: The Sikh National Heritage Trust.

Mann, Gurinder Singh. 2001. The Making of the Sikh Scripture. New York: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195130243.001.0001

———. 2008. “Scriptures and the Nature of Authority: The Case of Guru Granth in Sikh Tradition.” In Theorizing Scriptures: New Critical Orientations to a Cultural Phenomenon, edited by Vincent L. Wimbush, 41–54. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press.

Myrvold, Kristina, ed. 2010. The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions. Farnham Surrey: Ashgate.

———. 2008. “Personifying the Sikh Scripture: Ritual Processions of the Guru Granth Sahib in India.” In South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora, edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 140–156. London and New York: Routledge.

———. 2007. Inside the Guru’s Gate: Ritual Uses of Texts among the Sikhs in Varanasi. Lund: Media-tryck.

Oberoi Harjot. 1995. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rappaport, Roy A. 1999. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rumsey, Alan. 1990. “Wording, Meaning, and Linguistic Ideology.” American Anthropologist 92: 346–361. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/aa.1990.92.2.02a00060

Shackle, Christopher. 2008. “Repacking the Ineffable: Changing Styles in Sikh Scriptural Commentary.” Bulletin of SOAS 71(2): 255–277.

Singh, Arvind-Pal. 1995. “The Ambivalence of Tradition in the Representation of Sikh Culture International Journal of Punjab Studies 2(2): 217–238.

———. 1996. “Interrogating Identity: Cultural Translation, Writing, and Subaltern Politics.” In Punjabi Identity: Continuity and Change, edited by Gurharpal Singh and Ian Talbot, 187–227. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers.

Singh, Bhai Vir, ed. 1999 (1926). Puratan Janam Sakhi Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. New Delhi: Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan.

Singh, Fauja, ed. 1990. The City of Amritsar: An Introduction. Patiala: Publication Bureau Punjabi University.

Singh, Gurnek. 1998. Guru Granth Sahib: Interpretations, Meaning and Nature. Delhi: National Book Shop.

Singh, Jodh. 1998. Varan Bhai Gurdas: Text, Transliteration and Translation. Patiala, New Delhi: Vision and Venture.

Singh, Pashuara. 2000. The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning and Authority. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

———. 2008. “Scripture as Guru in the Sikh Tradition.” Religion Compass 2(4): 659–673. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-8171.2008.00080.x

World Sikh News, available at http://worldsikhnews.com/worldsikhnews/Tercentenary%20of%20Guruship%20to%20Guru%20Granth%20Sahib.htm. Accessed 31 August 2010.



How to Cite

Myrvold, K. (2012). Engaging with the Guru: Sikh Beliefs and Practices of Guru Granth Sahib. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 6(1-3), 201–224. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v6i1-3.201