Guru Granth Sahib: Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll look at the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikh religion. Specifically, we'll discuss the history of the book's creation, its composition, its authors, and how it came to be the final Guru to lead the Sikhs.

More Than Just a Book

Like many religions around the world, Sikhism has its own holy book. Interestingly, their holy book, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, includes wisdom by non-Sikh writers as well as those from inside their faith. Even more fascinating, after a line of ten human Gurus leading their religion, the tenth Guru declared his successor would be this book. Guru Gobind Singh claimed that after years of human leadership, the Sikhs no longer needed a living guru, and the words and writings of prior Gurus and other holy writers would be enough to guide the faithful for the rest of time. So, how did this book come to exist and how do Sikhs today see this book that is also their leader? Let's take a closer look.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib
One Page

History of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib

In the beginning of the Sikh religion, the first Guru and founder of the religion, Guru Nanak, wrote copious amounts of hymns to help teach others about Sikhism. Not only were the hymns great teaching tools, they were easier to remember for both the person singing and the person listening. Guru Nanak also wrote numerous poems and thoughts on the nature of God and what kind of life a person should lead.

Meaning: The love of God is more valuable than any wealth or power.

His successor, Guru Angad, also continued the tradition of writing but he also wrote the first official biography of Guru Nanak's life. The third Guru, Guru Amar Das, was the first leader to compile the writing of his predecessors, though the anthology was far from the tome used today. It was the fifth leader of the Sikhs, Guru Arjan, who finally assembled the original version of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib in response to his brother's deceitful attempts to pass off his own work as hymns of the Gurus. Guru Arjan sent his most trusted Sikhs to find and authenticate original manuscripts by prior Gurus. Once authenticated, Guru Arjan arranged them into the first official compilation and holy book of the Sikhs known at the time as the Pothi Sahib, which Sikhs today call the Kartarpur Bir.

Guru Arjan also included an epilogue to the Pothi Sahib:

'Three things are there in the vessel; Truth, contentment, and intellect. The ambrosial name of God is added to it, The Name that is everybody's sustenance. He who absorbs and enjoys it shall be saved. One must not abandon this gift, It should ever remain dear to one's heart. The dark ocean of the world can be crossed by clinging to His feet. Nanak, it is He who is everywhere.' (Guru Arjan Dev, Mundawani)

Meaning: Humbling yourself allows you to see the goodness and presence of God in anyone.

Many years later, the tenth and last human leader of the Sikh, Guru Gobind Singh, created a new edition of holy scriptures for the Sikh religion, one that compiled the writing of many Gurus as well as Sikh saints and wisdom from other religions. He named this new edition the Guru Granth Sahib, also called the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Feeling the wisdom contained in the book's pages would be enough to guide the Sikh faithful, he declared the Sri Guru Granth Sahib to be his successor and the final Guru. Although Guru Gobind Singh was known to write many poems, he only included one hymn of his own in the final draft.


Since the Sri Guru Granth Sahib is a compilation of prayers, hymns, poems, and other writing by the Gurus and others, the book has many authors. The list below details the number of contributions by each Guru.

  • Guru Nanak: 974 passages
  • Guru Angad: 62 passages
  • Guru Amar Das: 907 passages
  • Guru Ram Das: 679 passages
  • Guru Arjan: 2,218 passages
  • Guru Tegh Bahadur: 115 passages
  • Guru Gobind Singh: 1 passage

As you can see, three out of the ten Gurus--Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, and Guru Harkrishan-- are not included. This is because either they did not write anything during their short time as Guru or because none of their writings remain.

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