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Examining and Exploring the Sikh Scriptures

Accessing Manuscripts through technology

At Momentum Infotech, for over a decade we are contributing to research, conservation, publishing and sharing of rich Punjab and Sikh heritage worldwide using latest technologies. The purpose of ‘The Ramsar Project’ is to create a viable platform upon which knowledge pertaining to Sikh History, Scriptures, Manuscripts, architecture and artifacts can be made accessible globally as an extensive collection of resources with ease and to foster a spirit of collaboration and open dialogue.  

The Ramsar Project acts as an extensive collection of resources often which include resources that are not widely or easily available for researchers, students, and professionals, and is a particularly useful tool for individuals who have limited access to relevant resources.  

Why the Ramsar Project? 

The project has been named after the historical tank on the banks of which the first volume of Adi Granth was compiled by Guru Arjun and scribed by Bhai Gurdas. So commemorating the episode in the sacred memory of the Sikh faith the project has been named The Ramsar Project.  

Aims of the project   

The project tends to bring the texts of the manuscripts online for the study of the academic world. Thousands of copies of the sacred volume are preserved in private collections and libraries worldwide with limited or no access. This project will make easy for scholars of Gurmukhi script and the Sikh writings to study the texts easily with enhanced experience of technology. 

This project also help to preserve the manuscripts and artefacts which are the part of collective culture of the entire world. This project will help users to examine and explore the most ancient manuscripts at a level of detail like never before. This new system gives users access to searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of the manuscripts along with short introductory notes and information on their background and history.  

It will also help to catalogue, locate and manage the sacred codices and preserve them from damage and black marketing. The project also includes other writings like Dasam Granth, writings of Bhai Gurdas, poetry Bhai Nand Laal, historical texts like the Janamsakhis, Gurbilas, commentaries and other writings of importance.  

Sacred Volume, the centre of the study  

Adi Granth or the Guru Granth Sahib occupies a pivotal position in the religion of the Sikhs, although texts of all religions have a paramount role in the faith of its adherents but none carry the splendour and reverence like the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs. The writings of the Sikh Gurus were reduced to writing and memories from the time of their composition and were a part of daily liturgy and worship from the days of the formation of the faith.  

The uniqueness of the Sikh experience is the concept of Shabad. The Shabad was first revealed to Guru Nanak the founder of Sikh faith around 1599 CE after his mystical experience in the Vein River in Sultanpur in North India. The Shabad is the basic tune which created the world and is still resonating as the divine potential in all. The Shabad is revealed to the humans through the agency of the Guru who is the immanent form of the Akal Purakh himself. He transmits the Shabad to the humans regardless of any distinction of race, gender, nationality or sex. The Guru first listened the Shabad in his heart in the form of the divine resonance Nad and revealed it in the form of his utterings in poetry called Bani.  

These writings were written to preserve them for eternity, so the written word itself was sacred and the abode of the lord (pothi parmesar ka than). The first endeavour to collect them in written cannon was envisaged by the third Guru, Amardas (1479-1574 CE). Under his supervision the writings of all previous Gurus and medieval saints and poets were collected in several volumes scribed by his grandson Shansar Ram collectively called the Goindwal Pothis (circa 1570 CE). The script used to write it was named Gurmukhi, that is from the mouth of the Guru, this was not only the first great project to preserve the Sikh memory of the divine, but also these volumes are the oldest specimen of the Gurmukhi script in which later Sikh literature is written.  

The fifth Guru Arjun (1563-1606 CE) gave Sikhs the centre of their faith in the form of Harimandir also called the Golden Temple (1577 CE). Then he also dedicated his time to update the previous volumes with the writings of his father and himself along with more writings of the saints and poets of his court, so he loaned them from the sons of the third Guru and appointed Bhai Gurdas (1551-1631 CE) as the scribe to pen the sacred volume. The place chosen for this was a quiet spot outside the city on the banks of a tank called Ramsar. The result was the Adi Granth or the Prime volume of authentic writings of the Sikhs, further he installed the volume at the sacred shrine of Harimandir in 1604 CE and appointed Bhai Buddha (1506-1631 CE) the Sikh patriarch as the first custodian of the volume.  

The turning point came when the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE) as his last act installed the Adi Granth as the spiritual head of the Sikh faith, from then on the Adi Granth was known as Guru Granth Sahib. No other scared volume carries the authority and command over the followers of the faith as the Guru Granth Sahib, daily during the early hours of the morning the sacred volume is carried from its resting place in a Gurudwara in a palanquin to its place of worship and vice versa. The Sikhs bow to the sacred writings considered the physical body of the Guru and the God, all rituals and ceremonies from birth till death, personal and corporate takes place under the centrality of the text.  

The Sikh Scribal Tradition 

From the earliest of days the devout Sikhs have tried to preserve the divine utterances of their Gurus in the form of dedicating them to memory or reducing them to writing, thus giving birth to the early sikh scriptural and scribal tradition. The earliest of records of Guru Nanak called Janamsakhis record a troupe of scribes who would write down the songs of Guru Nanak as they were uttered or sung all during his worldwide travels. Some prominent names are Saido, Sihan, Bala and Jhanda. The writings were also discerned for liturgical purpose so they gave birth to prayer books or breviaries for devotees to be used in worship and for singers to be used during Kirtan.  

The first major project was the Goindwal codices where the writings were preserved and organised on musical patterns called Rag in Indian tradition. The next phase came with the discernment of authentic writings and discrepancies in the versions of the texts. The fifth Guru dealt it with by codifying the writings in a single volume for consultation and the mark to judge the text.  

After it every place of worship of the Sikhs needed a copy of the volume for worship so the demand produced the Sikh scribal tradition for copying and propagating the text. Thus hundreds of volumes were produced by the scribes during the early seventeenth and eighteenth century till the advent of the twentieth.  

Throughout it the scribal and textual tradition witnessed the development of the Gurmukhi script and the writings of the gurus and their arrangement with the scriptural adaptation of the texts of the Bhagats. Furthermore after the transferring of the guruship to the Granth Sahib the status and respect for the writing was further extended, with coming of the Sikh empire under the leadership of Ranjit Singh lavish and illuminated volumes of the texts were produced with workshops in Lahore, Amritsar and Kashmir.