The Challenge of Translating the Guru Granth Sahib: An Illustration and Preliminary Reflections by Nirvikar Singh

March 2017
This paper seeks to highlight some basic elements of the challenge of translating the Guru Granth Sahib into modern English. This is of particular interest for several reasons, including the importance of English for diaspora Sikhs and for many educated Indians and the predominance of English for academic work and modern scholarship. The topic is so large in scope that this paper uses a novel strategy, working with a small segment of the GGS – one verse of its best known component, the Jap[u] Ji – and comparing multiple translations of this single verse. Even the available academic translations, as argued and illustrated in this paper, vary considerably in their execution of the task. This paper also suggests that greater scholarly insight into issues of Sikh belief, doctrine or self-understanding might be gained from comparisons of existing translations, and from efforts to produce “better” translations wherever possible.

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Nirvikar Singh holds the Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair of Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UCSC. He also directs the UCSC South Asian Studies Initiative within Social Sciences. He is a member of the Advisory Group to the Finance Minister of India on G-20 matters He has previously served as Director of the Santa Cruz Center for International Economics, Co-Director of the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, Special Advisor to the Chancellor (all at UCSC), and Consultant to the Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, Government of India. He organized one of the first major US conferences on Indian economic reform. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and his BSc and MSc from the London School of Economics, where he was awarded the Allyn Young Prize, Gonner Prize and Ely Devons Prize.

Professor Singh’s current research topics include entrepreneurship, information technology and development, electronic commerce, business strategy, political economy, federalism, economic growth and the Indian economy. He has authored over 100 research papers and co-authored three books: Joint Ventures, International Investment and Technology Transfer; The Political Economy of Federalism in India; and Waiting to Connect: India IT Revolution Bypasses the Domestic Industry. He has also served as an advisor for several startups and knowledge services firms in Silicon Valley and in India.

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