JĀPU, popularly known as Jāp Sāhib, by Gurū Gobind Siṅgh is the introductory invocation in his Dasam Granth. In this hymn the unicity of the Supreme Being is proclaimed and He is delineated as the One amidst the multiplicity of his creation. The positive and the negative attributes of the Creator are sung so as to illuminate the human spirit. The exact date of the composition of this poem is not known, but it is commonly accepted as one of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's earlier compositions. The four years of his early youth he spent at Pāoṇṭā were the most creative, and the Jāpu is generally believed to have been composed during that period.
Jāp is a Sanskrit formation, derived from the root jap which means to utter in a low voice'. In common usage, Jāp means adoration by repeating reverentially God's name as a sacred formula. Jāp is a regular part of the Indian religious discipline wherein God is remembered by innumerable names signifying and symbolizing His different attributes and deeds.
Like Gurū Nānak's Japu, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's Jāpu is a text for daily recitation. It is one of the regimen of five Sikh prayers to be repeated every day. It is also one of the five bāṇīs which are recited as amrit is being churned for the rites of Sikh initiation. The composition comprises 199 verse-pieces in 10 different metres, namely Chhappai, Bhujaṅg-prayāt, Chācharī, Rūāl, Bhagvatī, Haribolamanā, Charpaṭ, Madhubhār, Rasāval and Ek Achharī, which are repeated with varying effects. How incapable human intellect is of defining and counting all of His names is proclaimed at the very beginning. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh describes the Creator as beyond marks and symbols, castes and hues, forms and garbs. He is immutable, self-luminous, limitless and the Supreme Sovereign of all the three worlds. Every particle of Nature proclaims, "He is Infinite, He is Infinite." God is beyond all religions and denominations: Namastaṅ amajabe. Namastasatu ajabe. (Jāpu, 17). He is formless, invisible, immeasurably great; His mystery is impenetrable, His glory is indefinable, His holiness is unsurpassable. "Hail Thee, Lord Eternal! Hail Thee, ever Merciful! Hail Thee, Thou Supremely Beautiful! Hail Thee, Soveregin of all" (Jāpu, 19).
He is Destroyer and Creator: He is Death, yet the Sustainer. Darkness and light, tumult and peace may appear contradictory to the finite human mind, but God is above these contradictions. He is darkness as well as supreme illumination. The Supreme Being, called Akāl, the Timeless in Jāpu, may manifest Himself in many forms, shapes, colours, qualities, quantities, but ultimately He is One: "ek mūrati anek darsan kīn rūp anek khel kheli akhel khelan, ant ko phiri ek" (Jāpu, 81) . He is all-pervading and is the essence of all spiritual experience. A significant aspect of this composition is its characteristic language. In the Jāpu, Gurū Gobind Siṅgh has employed with telling effect, powerful rhythmic and flowing alliterative diction -- a mixture of Braj Bhāshā, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and Punjabi. Sanskrit words have been used both in their original (tatsam) and popular (tadbhav) forms. Words of Arabic and Persian origin have also been used in abundance. The peculiarity lies in fusing words of Sanskrit origin with those from Arabic and Persian. Jāpu is the example of a language popular in varying degrees in northern India when Bhākhā or Hindi was developing. Such verbal experiments served the purpose of imparting universality and catholicity to the expression.