BĀṆĪ, Sanskrit vāṇī (meaning sound, voice, music; speech, language, diction; praise, laudation), refers in the specifically Sikh context to the sacred compositions of the Gurūs and of the holy saints and sūfīs as incorporated in the Scripture, the Gurū Granth Sāhib. Compositions of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh comprising the Dasam Granth are also referred to as Bāṇī. For Sikhs, Bāṇī or the compound Gurbāṇī (Gurū's bāṇī) is the revealed word. Revelation is defined as the way God discloses and communicates Himself to humanity. There are different views on how he does this. The Hindu belief is that God occasionally becomes incarnate as an avatār and thus communicates Himself through his word and action while living on this earth. For the Muslims the revelation consists in actual words in the form of direct messages conveyed from God through an angel, Gabriel, to the Prophet. Another belief is that God communicates not the form but the content of the words, i. e. knowledge, to man. A related view is that, as a result of the mystic unity they achieve with the Universal Self, certain individuals under Divine inspiration arrive at truths which they impart to the world. The Gurūs did not subscribe to the incarnation theory -"The tongue be burnt that says that the Lord ever takes birth" (GG, 1136), nor did they acknowledge the existence of angels or intermediaries between God and man. They were nevertheless conscious of their divine mission and described the knowledge and wisdom contained in their hymns as God-given. "As the Lord's word comes to me, O Lālo, so do I deliver it, " says Gurū Nānak (GG, 722). Gurū Arjan : "I myself know not what to speak; all I speak is what the Lord commandeth" (GG, 763). It is in this sense that Bāṇī is revelation for the Sikhs. It is for them God's Word mediated through the Gurūs or Word on which the Gurūs had put their seal. The Bāṇī echoes the Divine Truth; it is the voice of God -"the Lord's own word, " as said Gurū Nānak; or the Formless Lord Himself, as said Gurū Amar Dās :
vāhu vāhu bāṇī niraṅkār hai
tisu jevaḍu avaru na koi (GG, 515)
Hail, hail, the word of the Guru,
Which is the Formless Lord Himself;
There is none other, nothing else
To be reckoned equal to it.
Being Word Divine, Bāṇī is sacred and the object of utmost veneration. That the Bāṇī was reverenced by the Gurūs themselves even before it was compiled into the Holy Book is attested by an anecdote in Gurbilās Chhevīṅ Pātshāhī. While returning from Goindvāl after the obsequies of his father, Gurū Arjan took with him some pothīs or books containing the Bāṇī of the first four Gurūs. The Sikhs carried the pothī's, wrapped in a piece of cloth, in a palanquin on their shoulders. The Gurū and other Sikhs walked along barefoot while the Gurū's horse trailed behind bareback. When the Sikhs suggested that the Gurū ride as usual, he replied, "These [pothīs] represent the four Gurūs, their light. It would be disrespectful [on my part to ride in their presence]. It is but meet that I walk barefoot. " "The Bāṇī is Gurū and the Gurū is Bāṇī___" sang Gurū Rām Dās (GG, 982). Gurū Nānak, the founder, had himself declared, "śabda, i. e. word or bāṇī, is Gurū, the unfathomable spiritual guide; crazed would be the world without the śabda" (GG, 635). "Śabda-Gurū enables one to swim across the ocean of existence and to perceive the One as present everywhere" (GG, 944). Thus it is that the Bāṇī of the Gurū commands a Sikh's reverence.
The content of the Bāṇī is God's name, God's praise and the clue to God-realization. God is described both as immanent and transcendent. He is the creator of all things, yet He does not remain apart from His creation. He responds to the love of His creatures. Hukam or the Divine Law is the fundamental principle of God's activity. Man's duty is to seek an understanding of His hukam and to live his life wholly in accord with it. God is the source of grace (nadar) and it behoves man to make himself worthy of His grace. The Bāṇī, which is Gurū in essence, brings this enlightenment to men. It shows the way. Listening to, reciting and becoming absorbed in Bāṇī engenders merit and helps one to overcome haumai i. e. finite ego or self-love which hinders understanding and realization. In proclaiming the supreme holiness and majesty of God, the Bāṇī has few parallels in literature. It contains one of the most intimate and magnificent expressions of faith in the Transcendent. It is an earnestly given testament about God's existence and a sterling statement of a deeply experienced vision of Him. The Bāṇī is all in the spiritual key. It is poetry of pure devotion, love and compassion. It is lyrical rather than philosophical, moral rather than cerebral. It prescribes no social code, yet it is the basis of Sikh practice as well as of the Sikh belief. It is the source of authority, the ultimate guide to the spiritual and moral path pointed by the Gurūs.
The form of the Bāṇī is as sublime as is its content. It is a superb body of verse in a variety of metre and rhythm, arranged under thirty-one different musical measures. Besides its ardent lyricism and abounding imagination, it displays a subtle aesthetic sensitivity. The aptness of its image and simile is especially noteworthy. Its musicality is engaging. The language is mainly Punjabi in its simple spoken idiom. The down-to-earth, sinewy presence of its vocabulary and the eloquence of its symbolism drawn from everyday life give it a virile tone. The Bāṇī constitutes the springhead of Punjabi literary tradition and the creative energy the latter acquired from it informed its subsequent growth and continues to be a vital influence to this day.
Piārā Siṅgh Sāmbhī