MIHARBĀN JANAM SĀKHĪ takes its name from Soḍhī Miharbān, nephew of Gurū Arjan and leader of the schismatic Mīṇā sect. Miharbān's father, Prithī Chand, was the eldest son of Gurū Rām Dās and as such had greatly resented being passed over as his father's successor in favour of a younger brother. He set himself as a rival to the Gurū. He and his followers who supported his claims were stigmatized as Mīṇās or hypocrites and outcastes. Succeeding his father as leader of this sect in 1619, Miharbān guided it until his death in 1640. Later, the sect declined into insignificance. A belief, however, survived that Miharbān had composed a janam sākhī of Gurū Nānak. Until well into the twentieth century, no copy of this Janam Sākhī had come to light. The prologue to the highly respected Gyān Ratanāvalī specifically declared that the Mīṇās had corrupted the authentic record of Gurū Nānak's life and teachings. The lost Miharbān Janam Sākhī had accordingly been branded spurious and heretical, and but for the Gyān Ratanāvalī reference it would probably have been forgotten completely.
In 1940, however, a Miharbān manuscript was discovered at Damdāmā Sāhib and subsequently acquired by Khālsā College, Amritsar. Upon exanmination this substantial manuscript turned out to contain only the first half of the complete Miharbān Janam Sākhī. According to the colophon, the complete work comprised six volumes (pothīs). The manuscript itself consisted of the first three volumes, Pothī Sachkhaṇḍ, Pothī Harīji, and Pothī Chaturbhuj, respectively. The three missing sections were entitled Keso Rāi Pothī, Abhai Pad Pothī, and Prem Pad Pothī. In 1961, the Khālsā College acquired a second and much smaller Miharbān manuscript which provided a text for folios missing from the Damdamā manuscript. It is, however, limited to a portion of Pothī Sachkhaṇḍ, and thus provides no material from the three missing volumes. The only portion to survive from this latter half of the Miharbān Janam Sākhī is its account of the death of Gurū Nānak. This has been incorporated in a recension of the Bālā Janam Sākhī tradition.
From the extant volumes of the Miharbān Janam Sākhī, three important conclusions may be drawn. The first of these is that the work can scarcely be described as heretical. Objections grounded in orthodox doctrine may certainly be raised at a few points, but the same can be said of all Janam Sākhīs. Unlike the early Janam Sākhīs of the Bālā tradition, the Miharbān product implies no denigration of the mission of Gurū Nānak, demonstrating instead a serious concern to propagate his teachings. Pothī Harī jī does contain the spurious story of Gurū Nānak's marriage to a Raṅghaṛ woman, but it occurs within a narrative section which has plainly been interpolated.
The Mīṇās were unquestionably guilty of positive schism and it is possible that at some stage they may have attempted to corrupt orthodox texts in the interests of their own pretensions. But the extant Miharbān Janam Sākhī scarcely falls within this category.
The second conclusion to be drawn from the two available manuscripts is that the text we now possess is a late and extensively augmented one. The Damdamā manuscript is dated 1885 Bk/AD 1828 and plainly it is to the early nineteenth century that its text belongs. If in fact Soḍhī Miharbān did deliver discourses to his followers, there can be little hope of isolating his authentic contribution from the mass of material recorded in the extant text.
The third conclusion indicated by the extant text is that, strictly speaking, the so called Miharbān Janam Sākhī is not really a Janam Sākhī. The first volume, Pothī Sachkhaṇḍ does use a Janam Sākhī narrative as a convenient framework, but the burden of emphasis is firmly placed on the extensive exegetical discourses which the Miharbān tradition so characteristically sets within this pattern. In the two remaining volumes (and presumably in their three missing successors), the narrative element disappears almost completely, except for a few interpolations. Whenever a setting is provided for a discourse, it is normally sketched in the briefest of terms. The emphasis on scriptural quotation and exegesis, already dominant in the first volume, thus becomes overwhelming in those which follow.
It is accordingly as a work of exegesis that the Miharbān Janam Sākhī must be primarily understood, a quality which clearly distinguishes it from the standard narrative Janam Sākhīs. The same Miharbān tradition produced other exegetical works (notably Goṣṭāṅ Srī Miharbān Jī Dīāṅ) and it is within this category that its so-called Janam Sākhīs properly belong. This is signified not merely by the actual content of the Miharbān Janam Sākhīs, but also by the structure within which it incorporates that content. In place of the anecdotal form (Sākhī) of the narrative Janam Sākhīs, it uses a distinctive variety of discourse (goṣṭ).
The typical goṣṭ of the Miharbān tradition comprises three elements. First, there is a brief narrative setting which brings Gurū Nānak into converse with some interlocutor, or with God. Second, there appears a series of extracts from the works of Gurū Nānak. Third, interspersed between these scriptural quotations and providing the bulk of most discourses, there are explanations of the passages quoted. Normally these exegetical sections are introduced with the standard formula; tis kā paramārath ("Its sublime meaning"). Many discourses are limited to a single hymn, with individual stanzas quoted and expounded separately, usually with an introductory query provided for each by the interlocutor. Others treat a theme more extensively by citing in turn a series of relevant hymns.
There were only two Miharbān Janam Sākhī manuscripts known to be extant. The text of the principal manuscript, supplemented where necessary by the later discovery, has been published by the Khālsā College, Amritsar, under the title, Janam Sākhīs Srī Gurū Nānak Dev Jī (2 volumes, Amritsar, 1962 and 1969).
The language of this Janam Sākhī is Sādh Bhāshā with a mixture of Punjabi vocabulary. Theological terminology of Indian traditions is freely and judiciously employed. Typical preacher style makes the discourses a bit too monotonous.
W. H. McLeod