11. Gurmukhi Script

Gurmukhi :  Literally "from the mouth of the Guru".

Gurmukhi is the name of the script used in writing primarily Punjabi and, secondarily, Sindhi language. It is used in the Sikh scripture and in contemporary India. It is an evolute from the old Brahmi script like Devanagari and other scripts of the area like Sharda, Takri, Mahajani etc. Gurmukhi characters are even older than Devanagari. The word Gurmukhi seems to have gained currency from the use of these letters to record the sayings coming from the mukh (literally mouth or lips) of the (Sikh) Gurus. The letters no doubt existed before the time of Guru Angad Dev(even of Guru Nanak) as they had their origin in the Brahmi, but the origin of the script is attributed to Guru Angad Dev. Guru Angad invented the present form of the Gurmukhi script. It became the medium of writing the Punjabi language in which the hymns of the Gurus are expressed. This step had a far-reaching purpose and impact. Firstly, it gave the common people a language that is simple to learn and write. Secondly, it helped the community to dissociate itself from the very reserved and complex nature of the Sanskrit religious tradition so that the growth and development of the Sikhs could take place unhampered and unprejudiced by the backlog of the earlier religious and social philosophies and practices. Earlier, the Punjabi language was written in the Landa or Mahajani script This had no vowel sounds, which had to be imagined or construed by the reader in order to decipher the writing. Therefore, there was the need of a script which could faithfully reproduce the hymns of the Gurus so that the true meaning and message of the Gurus could not be misconstrued and misinterpreted by each reader to suit his own purpose and prejudices. The devising of the Gurmukhi script was an essential step in order to maintain the purity of the doctrine and exclude all possibility of misunderstanding and misconstruction by any person. Guru Angad Dev ji started the schools and also developed the Gurmukhi language in order to make education available to the downtrodden and the underprivileged of the society at that time. Guru Angad was a great teacher who personally taught Punjabi in Gurmukhi script to children. He provided education and means of communication to common folk who would no longer be dependent on the religious or political establishment to pursue their own economic, educational or spiritual goals. This was his way of empowering people to have higher goals in life. An imperfect Punjabi alphabet existed at the time of Guru Nanak, but Guru Angad modified and polished it. Since the Guru Angad had adopted the modified alphabet, it was called 'Gurmukhi'- meaning that which is spoken through the mouth of the Guru. Gurumukhi became the medium of writing in which the hymns of the Gurus were expressed and it also suited to the language of the people. Although the origins of the Punjabi Alphabets are unclear, it is clear that Guru Angad popularized the use of this simplified Gurumukhi script among the Sikhs starting around 1541. The invention of Gurumukhi helped the early Sikh community to dissociate itself from the Sanskrit religious tradition. Sanskrit language was used by the Brahmins, the upper castes and it was the language of the Vedas, the Hindu religious texts. People of lower castes and untouchables were barred from reading any spiritual literature. This maintained the status of the superiority of the upper castes. Gurmukhi enabled the Sikhs to grow and develop their own unprejudiced spiritual literature. Creating this new script was significant for many reasons. It gave the people who spoke this language an identity of their own, enabling them to express their thought without any restrictions. The guru also saw the need of a script which could faithfully reproduce the hymns of the Gurus keeping its purity and which would also prevent misinterpretation or misconstruction by any reader to suit his own purpose and prejudices. This step by Guru Angad Dev helped secure the unhindered development and growth of Sikhism. Guru Angad also initiated the writing of the first authorized biography of Guru Nanak completed in 1544, as well as having a number of copies of Guru Nanak's hymns written out in the new Gurmukhi script.