BHAGAT (BHAKTA) BĀṆĪ, The Sikh Holy Book, Srī Gurū Granth Sāhib, comprises writings coming from two sources-the sayings of the Gurūs and those of the Bhagats (Bhaktas). The term Bhagat here broadly covers, besides some of the saints of medieval India whose compositions occur in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, those outside of the Gurū line whose compositions were entered in the holy book by Gurū Arjan (1563-1606) who compiled the Granth. All these contributors are in common parlance collectively called Bhagats. Under this rubric Bhagat is also included Shaikh Farīd, the Sūfī. Sometimes, the Bhaṭṭs, i. e. bards, who kept the Gurūs company and who recited panegyrics in their honour, Sattā and Balvaṇḍ who sang kīrtan or devotional songs in their presence, and Mardānā, Gurū Nānak's life-long Muslim companion who kept him company during his extensive travels, are loosely lumped with them. Strictly speaking, the Bhagat contributors to the Gurū Granth Sāhib are : Kabīr, Trilochan, Beṇī, Ravidās, Nāmdev, Dhannā, Jaideva, Bhīkhan, Saiṇu, Pīpā, Sadhanā, Rāmānand, Parmānand, Sūr Dās and Shaikh Farīd, the Sūfī.
These two streams mingle together completely and no distinctions are ever made among the writings emanating from them. They all, the writings of the Gurūs as well as those of the Bhagats, constitute one single text. On any point of precept and doctrine both will have equal validity. Both enjoy equal esteem and reverence. In fact, the notion of "two" does not exist. Both signal one single metaphysical truth. The Sikhs have believed through the centuries that they embody one single moral and spiritual maxim.
That they are the product of the same inspiration is also borne out by the way the incorporation of Bhagat Bāṇī into the Sikh writ is comprehended by subsequent Sikh authorities. Tārā Siṅgh Narotam (1822-1891) makes an unnatural deduction. According to his Granth Srī Gurmat Nirṇaya Sāgar, Gurū Arjan composed the entire Bhagat Bāṇī keeping in mind "the thoughts of each individual Bhagat. " This was a way of saying that those writings were like the Gurūs' very own. And for that reason no less binding on Sikhs than those by the Gurūs. The author of Gurbilās Pātshāhī Chhevīṅ had said that the bhaktas had their compositions recorded themselves. They - their souls - appeared in person and Bhāī Gurdās, who was writing, saw them with his own eyes. This was the account also given by the author of Srī Gur Pratāp Sūrāj Granth, a very influential text of the mid-nineteenth century. This was another way of stressing the identity of the message communicated.
The title Bhagtāṅ kī Bāṇī appears in the Gurū Granth Sāhib for the first time on page 323 to designate the compositions of Kabīr, Nāmdev and Ravidās in Rāga Gauṛī. Before that Kabīr's hymns in Rāga Sirī appear under the title Sirī Rāga Kabīr Jī Kā (GG, 91). Likewise, for the verses of Bhagat Trilochan, the title used is Sirī Rāgu Trilochan Kā (GG, 92) and for those of Beṇī, Sirī Rāga Bāṇī Bhagat Beṇī Jeo Kī (GG, 93). A verse of Ravidās appears at the end of the page. Generally, throughout the text the compositions of the Bhagats have been credited individually by their names and those of the Gurūs individually by the number in their order of succession - for instance, Mahalā (mahalā= Gurū-person) I will register the writings of the First Gurū, Gurū Nānak, Mahalā II, the writings of the Second Gurū, Gurū Aṅgad and so on until Mahalā V which means the Fifth Gurū, Gurū Arjan who compiled the Holy Book. The only other Gurū whose compositions figure in the Gurū Granth Sāhib is Gurū Tegh Bahādur, Nānak IX.
How did this corpus designated Bhagat Bāṇī enter the Holy Book? Bhāī Gurdās in his Vārāṅ, I. 32, suggests that Gurū Nānak during his travels carried under his arm a book, which evidently comprised his own writings. It might have also contained his record of some of the hymns of the saint poets whom he met during his extensive travels across the country or who had preceded him. According to the Purātan Janam Sākhī he handed over such a manuscript to Gurū Aṅgad as he passed on the spiritual office to him. Two of the collections of hymns or pothīs prior to Gurū Granth Sāhib are still extant. They are in the possession of the descendants of Gurū Amar Dās, Nānak III. Besides the compositions of the Gurūs, these pothīs contain compositions of some of the saints as well - among them Kabīr, Nāmdev, Ravidās and Bhīkhan. Gurū Arjan had access to these pothīs and presumably to some other materials as well accumulating over the years. Among them may well have been some writings of the Bhagats as well.
Views differ on whether Gurū Arjan included the sayings of the Bhagats exactly as received or whether he used his discretion in choosing his contributors and in bringing their contributions to conform, in general at least, to the tenets of Sikhism. One thing is certain. Bhagats in the Gurū Granth Sāhib are represented by their hymns, lauding Nirguna Brahm, i. e. God without attributes. Worshippers of Sarguna Brahm, of His Rāma and Kṛṣṇa incarnations, were excluded. Vaiṣṇava bhaktas such as Chaitanya and Mīrā Bāī are examples. At places in the text, the Gurū commented upon, even contradicted, the sayings of the Bhagats and both versions appear in the text. The purpose of such comments was to bring the sayings of the Bhagats in harmony with the Sikh teaching, which was uncompromisingly monotheistic, with a strong belief in a formless deity and which rejected caste and formal ritualism.
Gurū Arjan had the hymns transcribed with extraordinary exactness. He arranged the hymns in thirty different rāgas or musical patterns. A precise method was followed in setting down the compositions. First came śabdas by the Gurūs in the order of their succession. Then came aṣṭpadīs, chhants and vārs in a set order. The compositions of the Gurūs in each rāga were followed by those of the Bhagats in the same format. A very subtle system of numbering the hymns was evolved. Gurmukhī was the script used for the transcription.
From among the Bhagats, Kabīr's contribution is the largest. Besides two long compositions, Bāvan Akharī and Thitīṅ, 296 of his hymns in different rāgas and 239 ślokas are included in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, whereas Dhannā has only two hymns, one in Rāga Āsā and the other in Dhanāsarī Saiṇu has only one hymn and there is only one line of a hymn from Sūr Dās.
Kabīr (1440-1518), according to a modern Sikh scholar and researcher was born, near Vārāṇasī, to a poor Muslim couple. With a deep urge for a life of devotion from the very beginning, Kabīr became a major figure in medieval Indian bhaktī. Besides loving devotion which is his principal theme, his verses in the Gurū Granth Sāhib contain a trenchant criticism of caste, idolatry and empty ritualism.
The main thrust of the compositions of Farīd (1173-1266) is that man, overcoming worldly temptation, remain attached to God, the creator of all. Fear of death and the need to live according to the Islamic code figure in his verse, but special stress is laid on following the universally accepted humanitarian values.
Nāmdev (1270-1350), a washerman of Mahārāshṭra, has 60 of his hymns recorded in the Gurū Granth Sāhib in seventeen different rāgas. They represent the work of his later years, for in his younger years he tended more towards idolatry.
Ravidās, as we learn from his own verses, belonged to a family of shoe-makers, but he enjoyed considerable esteem among the people of Vārāṇasī where he lived. Forty of his hymns figure in the Gurū Granth Sāhib, in sixteen different rāgas. He has dealt in his verses with the themes of the Godhead, Nature, Soul, nām, Gurū, transmigration and liberation. According to him, realization of the divine is possible only through loving devotion, all else being mere pretension.
The contribution of remaining eleven Bhagats is numerically very small -18 hymns and one line in all. Their hymns, too, generally celebrate unicity and love of God. They reject ritualism and formalism, and lay stress on the remembrance of God's Name, which does not mean mere mechanical repetition of any attributive name of God, but implies the continuous feeling and realization of His presence at every place and in every being.