Gurbani is the word of the Sikh scripture Guru Granth. The Gurmukhi alphabet of Gurbani is phonetic. Each symbol has a single corresponding sound which put together form words. Simple enough, but it takes dedication to master. It can be challenging for a novice to read the daily nitnem prayers simply because of the time involved. When starting out, you will need to set aside an hour to 90 minutes for morning nitnem, and half an hour for evening prayers. Within a few weeks prayers become familiar, reading goes more smoothly, and the time required is reduced. With good planning, learning Gurbani can be very enjoyable.
1. Read Gurbani
Here are some suggestions to help you learn to make time for nitnem, improve your reading skills, deepen your understanding, and enjoy reading Gurbani while at home.
- If you do not have Guru Granth or a nitnem at home, make use of recordings and Guru Granth online.
2. Gurbani Audio Aids
3. Gurmukhi Flash Cards and Games
Writing and reading will help you become familiar with Gurmukhi alphabet symbols and words.
Making your own flash cards will help you learn Gurmukhi letters and playing games is great way to retain what you learn.
- Make flash cards of the Gurmukhi alphabet, and common words in Gurbani. Write pronunciation and meanings on reverse side.
- Make a second set of flash cards. Mix them up and lay them out on a table face up. Match up pairs of symbols or words.
Play Games matching Gurmukhi blocks to Gurmukhi letter board, or put together jigsaw puzzles featuring the Gurmukhi / Punjabi alphabet.
4. Copy Gurbani Characters, Words and Lines
Copy Gurbani by hand to help improve your recognition of characters and words.
- Get a notebook and fill a line, or page, with each Gurmukhi character until you are able to do it with ease.
- Write words in your notebook until reading and writing them come easily.
- Copy a prayer. Write out one line or verse at a time, day by day, to become familiar with words and spellings of each nitnem prayer.
5. Focus on Individual Nitnem Prayers
One of the best ways to become familiar with nitnem is to focus on an individual prayer, and do your best to commit it to memory.
- Select a particular line, verse, or prayer to read or recite aloud.
- Review prayers turn by turn, spending several weeks on each one before going on to the next.
- Choose a different time of day then you normally recite nitnem.
6. Shabad Sheets and Projector Screen
A hymn from Guru Granth is called a shabad. Shabad sheets are great learning aids.
- Print out a shabad sheet with the Gurbani transliteration, and translation for any hymn you choose.
- Use shabad sheets to practice singing, or playing kirtan, at home or online.
- Many gurdwaras project the shabad being sung onto a screen so that you can sing along.
7. Make a Study of Gurbani
As you become more proficient with reading Gurbani you may want to study the explanations and meanings. You can engage in Gurbani study right from home.
8. Read the prayer of Sukhmani Over One Week
Sukhmani is a selection from Guru Granth which consists of 24 Ashtipadis or major verses. Like all Gurbani it is poetic and very rhythmic to read or recite. Many Sikhs recite Sukhmani daily in addition to Nitnem. For a beginner, reading Sukhmani may take 2 1/2 hours. To learn Sukhmani, read it in parts:
- To start you may opt to read Sukhmani Sahib with a translation, or listen to a CD recording to become familiar with words.
- Plan to read the entire prayer over a week by dividing it into parts using a blank paath schedule to keep track of your progress. Take a few minutes each day to read several Ashtipadi so that by weeks end you have completed the entire Sukhmani.
- As you become more familiar with the words, read an additional Ashtipadi each day until it takes only one or two days to read.
- Eventually you will be able to complete Sukhmani in a single sitting.
9. Read the Entire Guru Granth Alone or With a Team
To really enjoy Gurbani, you will want to read through the entire Guru Granth. Devotional reading, or paath can be done over time by yourself, or with a team. You can even opt to listen to an entire reading, which besides the spiritual benefits will ultimately aid pronunciation. First decide which type of type of paath you would like to read, formal Sadharan paath or informal Sehaj paath, and then follow the ceremonial protocol for starting off and ending.
Read, or Listen to, the Entire Guru Granth Over Time
- Guru Granth has 1430 pages. Divide these by the number of days you would like to take to complete one entire reading choosing from one of 10 free devotional daily reading plans.
- Read your page assignments every day without fail.
Read the Entire Guru Granth in One Sitting
For best success in learning Gurbani, set a schedule and stick to it. Expect that it is going to take weeks to years to master Gurbani depending on your ability and native tongue. You have this lifetime. Make use of it. Associate with premee paathee, those who love Gurbani and who are determined to make reading Gurbani part of their daily life.
- Get together with four or more premee pathee who love to read Gurbani.
- Set aside between 48 hours to 72 hours of uninterrupted time for reading Gurbani.
- Conduct an Akhand Paath, a complete uninterrupted nonstop reading of Guru Granth Sahib follwing one of 2 free Akhand Paath schedules.
- Follow reading protocol for commencement and completion ceremonies.
10. Gurbani and Cyber Sangat
Cyber sangat is a great resource for engaging in Gurbani vichar or discussions and activities involving Gurbani.