MANĪ SIṄGH JANAM SĀKHĪ, also known as GYĀN RATNĀVALĪ and traditionally attributed to Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, a famous Sikh of the early eighteenth century martyred by the Mughal governor of Lahore, Zakarīyā Khān, in 1737, is a collection of 225 anecdotes related to the life of Gurū Nānak and some exegetical and theological discourses. Two manuscripts held by Khālsa College, Amritsar, are dated 1891 Bk/AD 1834, and 1895 Bk/AD 1838, respectively, and of the three others in a private collection at Paṭiālā two are also dated 1883 Bk/AD 1826, and 1927 BK/AD 1870, and although the third and the oldest one bears the date 1778 Bk/AD 1721, it is evident from its contents and the modern style of its language that its actual date must be much later. According to S.S. Ashok, Pañjābī Hath-Likhatāṅ dī Sūchī, four other undated manuscripts, two of them complete and two incomplete, also existed but they were probably destroyed during the army's invasion of the Darbār Sāhib complex in 1984. Of the three lithographed editions, the first was published by Charāgh Dīn and Sarāj Dīn of Lahore in 1891, the second by Sanskrit Book Depot, Lahore, in 1892, and the third by Gulāb Siṅgh and Sons, Lahore, in 1908. It is an abridged text of the 1892 lithographed edition that appears in Dr Kirpāl Siṅgh (ed) Janam Sākhī Paramparā (1969).
Some modern scholars dispute the authorship of the work or at least suspect some interpolations to have occurred later, although a prologue providing the following explanation for its original composition is found attached to all extant copies of the manuscript :
Some Sikhs once approached Manī Siṅgh with a problem. The schismatic Mīṇās were, they reported, corrupting the received account of the life and teachings of Gurū Nānak. It was evidently becoming impossible to distinguish authentic fact from malicious interpolation and for this reason they desired that he, as an acknowledged authority, should undertake to separate the two. Manī Siṅgh, in reply, referred them to Bhāī Gurdās' Vār as a reliable record of the Gurū's life. This record, they responded, was a very brief one. Something more was necessary and their request was for an extended commentary on Bhāī Gurdās' work. Protesting his inadequacy for such a task, Manī Siṅgh eventually agreed to take Bhāī Gurdās' Vār as his basic text and to supplement it with narratives he had heard from the followers of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh. The result was his Janam Sākhī, the Gyān Ratnāvalī.
There is no evident reason to mistrust this explanation although its accuracy cannot be definitively proved. That the work appears to be originally based on Bhāī Gurdās' vār-1 is evidenced by stanzas from this Vār quoted in the janam sākhī, most of them followed by a brief paraphrase, although other anecdotes also separate the stanzaic passages. These latter may have been taken from other sources by Bhāī Manī Siṅgh himself who must have been conversant with several janam sākhīs that already existed during his time. Still some interpolations cannot be ruled out.
The language of Manī Siṅgh Janam Sākhī is simple and easy to follow, but it is not uniform. Mostly, it is Punjabi, but it changes to Sādh Bhākhā when some philosophical point is being discussed. On the whole, it is nearer to the modern idiom; some of the grammatical forms, particularly case forms, freely occurring in Purātan or even in Bālā tradition have disappeared by this time.
W. H. McLeod