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10 Tips For Learning Sikh Scripture

Learn to Read Gurmukhi, Gurbani and the Guru Granth Sahib


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

Reading Akhand Paath
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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

Bani Pro 1 & 2 by Rajnarind Kaur
Photo © [Courtesy Rajnarind Kaur]

Listening to a good audio rendering is a great way to familiarize yourself with Gurbani pronunciation.

3. Gurmukhi Flash Cards and Games

Gurmukhi Blocks by GoSikh
Photo © [S Khalsa]

Writing and reading will help you become familiar with Gurmukhi alphabet symbols and words.

Introduction to Gurmukhi

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

Gurmukhi Script
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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

Nitnem - Panj Bania - Five Daily Prayers
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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

Reading Sejah Paath Sloks
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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

Cyber Paath Shabad at Sikhi to the MAX
Photo © [Screen Shot Courtesy Sikhi to the MAX]

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

Sacred Sukhmani Soft Cover Edition
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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.

Top Resources for "Sacred Sukhmani" Prayerbook, CD and Download

9. Read the Entire Guru Granth Alone or With a Team

Listening to Paath for Healing
Photo © [S Khalsa]

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

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

Sikhi to the MAX Cyber Paath
Photo © [S Khalsa Courtesy Sikhi to the MAX]

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