GURUSHABAD RATANĀKAR MAHĀṄ KOSH, more popularly known by its shorter title Mahān Kosh, the great dictionary, by the celebrated man of letters and lexicographer, Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh, of Nābhā, is a work unexcelled for its neatness and refinement of expression and monumental in its scope and size. It would indeed do justice to the title "Encyclopaedia." It is amazing how an individual conceived and planned a work of such a vast dimension and how he accomplished it single handed in a single lifetime. For the Punjabi world of learning, the Mahāṅ Kosh has been a real boon and generations of scholars have been nurtured on the inspiration and the literary energy and thought it has supplied. The style is a model of definitiveness of concept, tight and crisp, an essential requirement of encyclopaedic writing.
Arranged in alphabetical order of the Gurmukhī script, the Mahān Kosh carries 64,263 entries, which include words that occur in the Sikh canon, religious as well as historical. The author launched upon his research in the course of a study of two existing volumes, Paṇḍit Tārā Siṅgh Narotam's Granth Guru Girārth Koś (1895) and Hazārā Siṅgh's Srī Gurū Granth Koś (1899). He realized that a lexicographical work containing words occurring in Sikh historical texts as well as vocables in the Gurū Granth Sāhib could be of great value in promoting literary and critical studies in Punjabi. He made a very minute investigation ploughing through the entire corpus. He resigned his appointment in the Nābhā state government on 10 May 1912 to initiate the project. It took him about fourteen years to carry out the gigantic task he had set himself. He had the satisfaction of witnessing the consummation of his extraordinary industry on 6 February 1926.
Mahārājā Brijindar Siṅgh of Farīdkoṭ, who had undertaken to have the work printed and who claimed experience of patronizing this kind of scholarly enterprise, the first-ever commentary on the Gurū Granth Sāhib having been published in his state and the fourth and last volume of which was published in his own time, had died in 1918. Bhāī Kāhn Siṅgh's erstwhile patron Mahārājā Ripudaman Siṅgh, of Nābhā, had problems with the British authority and had eventually to abdicate his throne in 1923. In this situation, Mahārājā Bhūpinder Siṅgh of Paṭiālā came forward to help the project and offered to underwrite the entire expenditure on printing. The printing of the work started on 26 October 1927 at Sudarshan Press, Amritsar, owned by the popular Punjabi poet, Dhanī Rām Chātrik. The printing was completed on 13 April 1930. After the first edition (1930) which came out in four volumes, the Mahān Kosh was published by the Languages Department of Punjab, Paṭiālā, in a single volume. This edition has since been reproduced three times, the last edition coming out in 1981.
Each of the entries in the Mahān Kosh has been treated comprehensively. Its etymology and different meanings according to its usage at different places in different works have been recorded along with textual quotations. The work includes more than 7,000 words of Perso-Arabic origin. These words, as well as those of Sanskrit origin, have been reproduced in their respective scripts to bring to the readers their correct pronunciation and exact connotation. The names of geographical places, especially those claiming historical gurdwārās, have been dealt with the same care and attention to detail. The legends about each of the gurdwārās and its location have been recorded. Illustrations and maps have been added in the case of major places of pilgrimage. These Sikh shrines were visited by an investigator who recorded the details under the advice and the guidance of the author.
The work also contains entries on trees and herbs. Their botanical Latin equivalents have also been provided. Besides, there are entries on diseases, medicines, as also on terms from philosophy, music, prosody and rhetoric. Appropriate quotations and illustrations have been provided from works on religion, history, geography, science, medicine and language. References to the Vedas, the Bible, the Qurān, and other religious texts have been carefully traced. Different religions and their sects and their specialized terms and symbols are dealt with in appropriate detail. About historical and biographical works, accuracy and precision have been the criteria. Sikh chronicles written up to the middle of the nineteenth century have been dealt with in detail.