SAU SĀKHĪ (lit. a book of one hundred anecdotes) is the popular name of Gur Ratan Māl (lit. a string of the Gurū's gems), a work esoteric and prophetic in nature : also problematic as regards the authenticity of its text. Its writer, one Sāhib Siṅgh, describes himself only as a scribe who wrote to the dictation of Bhāī Gurbakhsh Siṅgh, better known as Bhāī Rām Kuṅvar (1672-1761) and a knowledgeable and honoured member of the retinue of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708). The book is meant to be a narrative pertaining to the life of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh, supposedly based on the personal knowledge of Bhāī Rām Kuṅvar, although later interpolations and corruption of the text are clearly decipherable. The extant manuscripts of the work have textual variations. Not all of them have the number of anecdotes matching its popular title. Allegedly written in 1724 or 1734 (the two dates found in the text), Sau Sākhī remained unknown until it was discovered in 1815 in a Brāhmaṇ family of Thānesar, who presented the manuscript to Sardār Amar Siṅgh Siṅghpurīā. The latter got copies prepared by a scribe, Natthā Siṅgh of Būṛīā. The book contained several allusions, in the form of prophetic utterances of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh to contemporary personages such as Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh, Rāṇī Sadā Kaur, and Raṇjīt Siṅgh's Muslim wife, Morāṅ. It became a much-sought-after work, though only rarely obtainable. Further changes and interpolations, evidently made after the annexation of the Punjab to British dominions, prophesied the re-establishment of Sikh sovereignty under Mahārājā Duleep Siṅgh. This roused the apprehension of the British government and, at their instance, Sir Attār Siṅgh of Bhadauṛ, translated the book into English in 1873 and got it published at Vārāṇasī. Several Punjabi editions appeared in print from 1890 onwards, the various versions continuing to differ in content and details, especially in respect of prophesies. The book is still popular with Nihaṅgs, who hopefully look forward to the revival of Khālsā rule, and with the Nāmdhārīs who interpret some of the allusions in the text as referring to their own movement which was clearly anti-British under its leader, Bābā Rām Siṅgh (1816-85).
Prophecies bearing on the political aspirations of the Khālsā or the Nāmdhārī Sikhs are not, however, the only or even the principal theme of the Sau Sākhī. Only 15 to 20 anecdotes contain such forecast. Many of the stories are didactic in aim, and follow the pattern of Bhāī Manī Siṅgh's Bhagat Māl, better known as Sikhāṅ dī Bhagat Mālā. Gurū Gobind Siṅgh is shown as explaining and illustrating philosophical and ethical principles of the Khālsā in answer to questions or doubts raised by the Sikhs. Occasionally, the Gurū himself creates situations to elicit pertinent questions. Resort is had to fables and mythology. Some of the stories descibe the battles fought by the Sikhs under Gurū Gobind Siṅgh's leadership, while other give an account of learned discussions among poets and scholars he had engaged. Two chapters in verse lay down the Sikh code of conduct in the style of the Rahitnāmās. Another is a discourse on worldly wisdom and diplomacy. The book has some historical value too, but has to be used with great care because of several anachronisms, mis-statements, interpolations and motivated turns given to the text by different scribes.
From the literary point of view, Sau Sākhī is a mixed fare. It is partly prose and partly verse. Punjabi is generally used for prose and Hindi for verse. Its anecdotal style and frequent use of narration in the first person, coupled with its euphoric, picturization of the future, make it interesting, but the idiom at places is too terse and obscure. On the other hand, this very obscurity lending itself to varying interpretations, heightens its appeal. It seems Sau Sākhī was a part of a larger volume, Pañj Sau Sākhī or five hundred anecdotes, no longer extant, which formed the basis of some of the episodes in Bhāī Santokh Siṅgh, Gur Pratāp Sūraj Granth.