The Diwân-e-Goyâ is a collection of more than sixty ghazals written by Bhai Nand Lal in classical Persian. This collection is most probably the most famous work of Bhai Nand Lal and its first translation into Punjabi was completed in the early decades of the 20th century. There is no dating of the compilation but it was most likely written in the 1690s during the Anandpur period and as the Zindagînamâ, the Diwan-e-Goyâ was also given its title by the Guru himself after he had read the famous Holi ghazal.
The compilation consists of more than sixty ghazal poems in different meters following a theme of devotional love to the Master (Murshid), worship (ibâdat), mysticism (irfân) and several notions of panentheism (wahdad-al-wujûd). The entire work elucidates Sikh doctrines through the sophisticated terminology of Sufism. The poet is addressing Guru Gobind Singh though the name of the Guru is not mentioned anywhere in the entire collection. This broadened the scope and universality of the ghazals so that Sufis and others could read them aloud and find their personal truth through these Sikh ghazals. It is most likely that these poems were used historically to present the Sikh path and appeal to Muslim Sufis to step onto the path of the Eternal Satguru.
Seeing a decline in the linguistic skills amongst the Sikhs following the fall of the Sikh Empire, the descendants of Bhai Nand Lal in the early 1900s began a project of commenting upon and translating the various works into Punjabi for the benefit of the non-Persian speaking Sikhs. In these commentaries, for the first time they put their family memoirs and oral traditions into writing hereby revealing interesting aspects of the ghazals. For instance, commenting on the third ghazal in the Diwân-e-Goyâ the descendants mention that Bhai Nand Lal wrote the ghazal in response to a ghazal by the 12th century Persian poet Hafez. Bhai Nand Lal follows the structure of Hafez’ ghazal, but subverts the content to highlight the supremacy of the Sikh path. By writing his poem as a response to an earlier poet, Bhai Nand Lal is creating a cosmic meta-communication between two actors – Sufism and Sikhi – where Bhai Nand Lal encourages the Sufis to submit to the will of the eternal Satguru and attain liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. In this way, the poet raises his ghazals from mere poetry to a cosmic communication between two mystical paths. In the following example, Hafez and Goya discuss the concept of renunciation which was an integral part of the mystical path of the early Sufis whereas Bhai Nand Lal, representing the Sikhs, completely rejects the idea. In the first ghazal of the Diwan-e-Hafez we read:
O Hafez; if you always desire His presence, do not be absent from him. When you find the person you love, abandon the world and its cares.
Whereas Goya in his third ghazal answers:
Since in every place I look there is nothing but His pure essence, O Goya; tell me – why should I forsake this world and abandon it?
The article “Persian Sikh Scripture” by Louis Fenech in PDF format below describes and analyses this communication between Bhai Nand Lal and Hafez in more detail.
Handwritten Persian calligraphy of the first ghazal of the Diwân-e-Goyâ.
Other references to great Persian poets of the past is seen in the twentieth ghazal of Goya where he comments on a ghazal from the famous Golestân of Sheikh Sa’adi. On discussing panentheism (wahdâd al wujûd) Sheikh Sa’adi writes:
O Khodâ, you exhibit yourself in front of me for a few moments, but then hide behind the veil again. In your doing so, both your value and the fire of longing in my heart increases manifold.
To this, Goya answers:
The beauty of the Beloved is all around us without a veil. What can you see of the lovely face, when you yourself are veiled behind the Self?
Hafez and Sheikh Sa’adi are not the only masters of the past to be referenced by Bhai Nand Lal. There are many direct and indirect subtle references and commentaries to the poetry of his predecessors such as Rumi, Mansoor and even to the Quran and the biblical prophet Moses. In these references we see how Bhai Nand Lal is transforming his ghazals from mere poetry into cosmic dialogues with the Masters of the past.
The content of the ghazals are diverse ranging from devotional love and mystical longing of the Master, to spiritual commentaries on the contemporary practices. The following verses describe the notion of awareness and consciousness:
None is faithless if you have faith in yourself; Times are such that every moment demands awareness. If you have Life, make it a sacrifice at the feet of the Beloved; Oh my Life, give your heart to the Beloved so that He may love it.
While the below has a more erotic and intimate flavour in its description of Guru Gobind Singh:
The kiss of your tiny and tender lips surpasses all sweetness. This is not a metaphor, - this is Truth unsurpassed. Know separation so you can yearn for union. How can you reach the goal without separation as your guide? Look into the eyes of the Beloved and become one like the eye-lashes until the bowl of desire gets filled with the diamonds of fulfillment.
As has been mentioned, the Diwân does not mention any of the Gurus by name, nor does it use typical Sikh terminology for the Divine. However, through a close and keen reading of the texts, it becomes evident that Bhai Nand Lal has written the ghazals in such a way that the references to purely Sikh doctrines are hidden within the texts and that they have to be extracted through a close and deep study of the metaphysics, philosophy and theology that arises from the ghazals. By doing so one can easily detect that the ghazals are neither Vedantic nor Sufi in nature. They are in fact expounding Sikhi and Sikh doctrines through a complex terminology and philosophy that has its origins in the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib.