2005 Stokes Isle Apt. 896, Vacaville 10010, USA

[email protected]

This Bani, revealed by Guru Arjan Sahib (1563-1606), is recorded on pages 1360-1361 of the Guru Granth Sahib. It has twenty-four saloks, with the lines ranging from two to four. The title of this Bani, ‘Gatha,’ seems to use the metaphor ‘salesh.’ On the one hand, Gatha refers to an ancient Prakrit language in which this Bani is composed, and on the other hand, Gatha refers to the ‘mysterious story’ of IkOankar. It is also indicated in the sixth salok of the Bani: gāthā gumph gopāl kathaṅ mathaṅ mān mardanah. hataṅ panc satreṇ nānak hari bāṇe prahāraṇah.6. (The tale of IkOankar is woven in Gatha Bani; by uttering and contemplating it, pride is destroyed. Nanak signature: Five enemies die, with the stroke of IkOankar’s Nam-like arrow.6.) -Guru Granth Sahib 1360.

In the above line, the word ‘Gatha’ has two meanings: 1. Gatha Bani 2. Story (of Gopal, the Nurturer of creation). Thus, the meaning of the entire line is: The narrative of Gopal is in Gatha Bani; by uttering and contemplating it, pride is destroyed.

Apart from this, the use of the word ‘Gatha’ in the tenth and eighteenth saloks, outlines the title and purpose of this Bani:
gāthā gūṛ apāraṅ samjhaṇaṅ birlā janah. sansār kām tajṇaṅ nānak gobind ramṇaṅ sādh saṅgmah.10.
(The narrative of the boundless IkOankar is profound; a rare being understands this. Nanak signature: That being abandons the desires of the world and sings of IkOankar in sadh-sangat.10.)
carṇārbind man bidhyaṅ. sidhyaṅ sarab kusalṇah. gāthā gāvanti nānak bhabyaṅ parā pūrabṇah.18.
(Whose mind is pierced in the lotus-feet of IkOankar, all comforts are received by that being. Nanak signature: But that fortunate one sings the story of IkOankar, who has this written in their fortune from the very beginning.18.)

By associating the title of the Bani, ‘Gatha,’ with different languages, scholars have given its meaning as a story, a story narrated in songs, a special poem, special language, mixed language, and folksong.

According to Pandit Tara Singh Narottam, ‘Gatha’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘katha’ (story). Poetic forms with three, six, or nine lines, which people used to call Bishan Pade (Bikham Pade), in Sanskrit Pingals (prosody/poetics) are written with the name ‘Gatha.’ Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee has raised the possibility that Buddhists developed a mixed Sanskrit, named ‘Gatha’ in Before the Common Era, in which Prakrit forms are found that are similar to Sanskrit.

Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha considers ‘Gatha’ as a poetic form as well as an ancient mixed language, in which words from Sanskrit, Pali, and other languages can be found. According to him, ‘Lalit Vistar,’ the Buddhist religious text, ‘Sahaskriti Salok’ and ‘Gatha’ in the Guru Granth Sahib are in this same language. As a poetic genre, Gatha is also known as ‘Gaha’ and ‘Arya.’ Some people, due to ignorance and without understanding the meaning of ‘Sahaskriti’ and ‘Gatha,’ say that Sahaskriti saloks are against the grammar of Sanskrit, which is not correct.

With Wilson’s reference Bhai Vir Singh links ‘Gatha’ with Prakrit language and writes that Gatha name belongs to Prakrit language (see: Wilson Sanskrit Kosh/Dictionary). The words in this language are usually of Sanskrit or Sanskrit origin, but the grammar is different. Many scholars say that the language spoken in ancient times was Prakrit, from which Sanskrit developed. However, some are of the opinion that when the Sanskrit language was confined to the Pandits, the colloquial language became Prakrit. Its other name is ‘Gatha.’

Even in Sri Guru Granth Sahib Kosh, ‘Gatha’ is considered Prakrit, unique from Sanskrit or an ancient language. According to this dictionary, this language was first used by Buddhists, then with much liberty, songs were recited in it in various parts of South Asia. In the last part of the Guru Granth Sahib, ‘Gatha’ is a Bani which seems to be in Sanskrit to the ignorant, but the title ‘Gatha’ of this Bani makes it clear that it is not in Sanskrit. It is ‘Gatha,’ in which words from Sanskrit and indigenous languages ​​are used.

Piara Singh Padam has also considered ‘Gatha’ as a modified form of Sanskrit, which is not according to the rules of Sanskrit but is under the influence of Prakrit grammar. Buddhist and Jain writers mostly used Prakrit. Later they started using Sanskrit mixed with Prakrit, which was not accepted by the Brahmins. It was deliberately not used but was popular with the public, which is why it came into writing. This modified form of Sanskrit, which was impure in the eyes of the Brahmins, is called ‘Gatha.’ It seems that its ancient tradition was present at some places. Based on this, the Guru preserved its form by composing twenty-four saloks under the title ‘Gatha.’

Dr. Suren Singh Vilkhu considers the language of ‘Gatha’ to be closer to Prakrit and accepts it as a poetic form of folk language. According to him, the word ‘Gatha’ was first used in Rig Veda. The practice of singing ‘Gatha’ was prevalent on performing Yagya. Additionally, he offers the views of various scholars, who further clarify the meaning of ‘Gatha.’

- ‘Gatha’ is a folk song that contains the narrative of a story, or it is a story that is told in songs. (George Lyman Kittredge)
- In Jatakas, compositions in the form of salok have been given the name ‘Gatha.’ (Batuk Nath Sharma)
- ‘Gatha’ is that form of folk literature, in which along with the ‘melody,’ the plot is also predominant. (Hindi Sahitya Kosh)

With reference to Acharya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Dr. Suren Singh Vilkhu further writes that in the days when complex poetical compositions were written in Sanskrit with great success, the folk language (Prakrit) turned into a small poetic form (Gatha). Later, ‘salok’ became a symbol of Sanskrit and ‘Gatha’ of Prakrit. ‘Gatha’ entered the literary arena in the early days of the Common Era.

Thus, Tara Singh Narottam and Suren Singh Vilkhu call ‘Gatha’ the poetic form of folk language. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha considers it both a poetic form and a mixed language. Bhai Vir Singh and Giani Hazara Singh call ‘Gatha’ the Prakrit language. Piara Singh Padam has considered it a modified form of Sanskrit which is subject to Prakrit grammar. Some scholars call the Bani entitled ‘Sahaskriti’ in Guru Granth Sahib as Gatha. In this context ‘Gatha’ can also be considered a synonym of ‘Sahaskriti.’ So, scholars have accepted Gatha as a Prakrit language or a poetic form. Poetry written in the Prakrit language is ‘Gatha.’ When the Sanskrit language was bound by strict rules, the forms of Sanskrit-based folk dialects that came to the fore were called Prakrit. For this reason, the Buddhists used this linguistic form as a medium of their ideological expression and the Guru also used it to utter the wisdom-laden ‘Gatha’ Bani due to the presence of the elements of folk language.