ੴ ਸਤਿਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ
ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥ (sggs 1).

Both "Mool" (also spelt Mul) and "Mantra" are Sanskrit words — "Mool" simply meaning "Root" (or Source, Primordial, Base, Foundation, Origin...); and Mantra simply meaning incantation (or text of the Gurbani...). Hence Mool Mantra (or Moolmantar, Mool Mantar ) means Root-Mantra. Just as the fragrance is boxed in the flower, and the light of the sun is hidden in the colors, similarly, the Essence of the Divine (ਪ੍ਰਮੇਸਰ ਦੇ ਸਾਰੇ ਗਿਆਨ ਦਾ ਖਜਾਨਾ, Brahm-Giaan...) is summed up in the Mool Mantra. Revealed by Baabaa Nanak, it's the commencing or opening (first) composition of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS). It also appears (in full or short form) before the commencement of most of the Raagas within the SGGS. The Mool Mantra is said to encapsulates the Essence of the Divine Message, thus it's the heart of the Sikh-Thought.

Note that neither Baabaa Nanak (the author of this opening composition of the SGGS) nor Guru Arjan Dev Jee (the compiler of the SGGS) named or called this very first line of the SGGS as "Mool Mantra"!! Exactly who, why, and when this opening composition of the SGGS was attributed this name - "Mool Mantra" - is beyond the scope of this Gurbani Article.

The first nine statements of the SGGS are as follows:

  1. ੴ : Ik Oankaar
  2. ਸਤਿਨਾਮ: Satinaam
  3. ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖ: Kartaa Purakh
  4. ਨਿਰਭਉ: Nirbhaou
  5. ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ: Nirvairu
  6. ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ: Akaal Moorati
  7. ਅਜੂਨੀ: Ajoonee
  8. ਸੈਭੰ: Saibhan
  9. ਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ: Gurprasaadi

The first eight statements indicate the eight (ਅਸਟ) Divine Qualities (ਗੁਣ, ਲਛਣ, indications...) of the One (i.e., That Ik, which is One or Saabat-ਇਕ, ਸਾਬਤ...), and the ninth statement indicates how to Realize That One and all His Divine Qualities. That One and His Divine Qualities are to be realized through "Gurprasaadi" ("ਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ" - ਗਿਆਨ ਦੀ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਨਾਲ, ਗਿਆਨ ਦੇ ਪ੍ਰਗਾਸ ਨਾਲ...), that is, through the Grace of the Gur-Giaan.

It is the most condense, brief, intricate and comprehensive composition indeed! Being the Base or Mool of the entire Sikh theology, the rest of the SGGS is said to be an elaboration or expansion of these statements. A small attempt is made here to reflect upon each statement separately as follows.

1. ੴ : Ik Oankaar

In addition to "Ik Oankaar", it can also be seen written in English as Ek Onkaar, Ek Onkar, Ek Ongkaar, Ek or Ik Omkaar or Ekankaar, Ek Aumkaar, Ek-Onm-Kaar, and so on. This first statement of the "Mool Mantra" is made of three syllables— "1" , "Oan" and "Kaar". "1" ("Ik" in Punjabi and "Ek" in Sanskrit) refers to the numerical figure "1";"Oan" refers to One Lord or Parmesar (Transcendent, Absolute, Non-dual Reality, Truth); "Kaar" refers to that which pervades everything uniformly and ceaselessly everywhere (One Omnipresence, Omnipotence and Omniscience, One Transcendent Absolute Reality, One Indivisible, One but only One Truth, etc.). It also means "the One who does" (Doer, Immanent etc.). This statement highlights the Sikh belief that the (Formless or Niraakaar) Truth is One and only One (not two or three). This is negation of duality, which implies absoluteness of the Truth. Truth or God being the Absolute, it also implies that it is not possible to attain Spiritual Knowledge unless a person has the necessary insight. The mind (Haume) has to surrender to get insight into the Truth (ਸਚ, ਮੂਲ...) within.

Clearly, Baabaa Nanak's indication of the Divine Energy is based on his firm conviction in the Unity of the Divine (ਇਕ, ਸਾਬਤ...). This was also in contrast to the polytheism traditions of the Indian society. What's more, during his time (even today!), the so called lower castes as well as women were not entitled to benefit from Spiritual Enlightenment through reading and listening scriptures, conducting religious ceremonies, etc. His firm conviction in the Unity of the Lord (unadulterated monotheism) departed from old traditions, making everyone entitled to Spiritual Enlightenment (regardless of caste, creed, race or gender). Baabaa Nanak has reiterated this negation of duality (division, cracked state, ਦੋ ਚਿੱਤਾ...) and his unshakable belief and conviction in the Unity of God in various ways in his other compositions in rest of the SGGS.

  • ਸਾਹਿਬੁ ਮੇਰਾ ਏਕੋ ਹੈ ॥ ਏਕੋ ਹੈ ਭਾਈ ਏਕੋ ਹੈ ॥: Saahib meraa eko hai. Eko hai bhaaee eko hai (sggs 350).
  • ਕਹਤ ਨਾਮਦੇਉ ਹਰਿ ਕੀ ਰਚਨਾ ਦੇਖਹੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਬੀਚਾਰੀ ॥ ਘਟ ਘਟ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਰਬ ਨਿਰੰਤਰਿ ਕੇਵਲ ਏਕ ਮੁਰਾਰੀ ॥੪॥੧॥: Kahat Naamadeou har kee rachanaa dekhahu ridai beechaaree. Ghat ghat antari sarab nirantari keval ek muraaree ||4||1|| (sggs 485).

Thus, "Ik Oankaar" (ੴ ) represents in its symbolism, as well as in its syllabic-significance, not only the manifest world of plurality (Sarguna or Immanent aspect), but also its Substratum (or "Adhaar", Base, Foundation, Source... ), Non-dual Reality within all of us. If all this is "Ik Oankaar" or if God is One and only One, then, subjectively, "Ik Oankaar" must necessarily represent not only the matter-envelopments in us, but also the Spiritual Factor behind it all. Non-duality is the state and it implies that one spontaneously sees everything as one's own True Self. If it's only limited to our words, then it has no meaning. It has to be brought into our lives. This state can be experienced within, if we choose to be Awakened/Enlightened. It's not an accidental happening. Each one has to earn it himself.

  • ਤਿਸਹਿ ਧਿਆਵਹੁ ਮਨ ਮੇਰੇ ਸਰਬ ਕੋ ਆਧਾਰੁ ॥: Tisahi dhiaavahu manu mere sarab ko aadhaar (sggs 51).

By placing the numerical figure"1" in the front, Baabaa Nanak also made it clear that the contents or the "Upadesa" (advice, religious instructions, teachings, Self-knowledge, Aatam-Giaan, etc. ) of the SGGS are equal ("ਸਾਝਾ"-Saajhaa) to all segments of the society (e.g., all four Varnas or the entire human family..). Besides Mool Mantra, there is an another term Beej Mantra (Seed Mantra) — that occurs in the composition known as "Sukhmani" (Pearl of Peace) of Sri Guru Arjan Dev Jee, which further emphasizes this point (i.e., in "Gurmat" there is no distinction of gender or there is no room for practicing Jaat-Paat). To put it otherwise, the message or wisdom of the SGGS is meant for the whole humanity. However, on account of our narrow thinking and the influence of Brahman-Vaad (ਬ੍ਰਹਮਣੀ ਮਤ), some Sikhs forget this and instead impose limits on as to who can come to seek the wisdom of the SGGS!

  • ਖਤ੍ਰੀ ਬ੍ਰਾਹਮਣ ਸੂਦ ਵੈਸ ਉਪਦੇਸੁ ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਕਉ ਸਾਝਾ ॥: Khatree braahaman sood vais oupadesu chahu varanaa kaou saajhaa (sggs 747).
  • ਬੀਜ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੁ ਸਰਬ ਕੋ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥ ਚਹੁ ਵਰਨਾ ਮਹਿ ਜਪੈ ਕੋਊ ਨਾਮੁ ॥: Beej mantra sarab ko giaan. Chahu varanaa mahi japai ko-oo naam (sggs 274).

The root of "Oankaar" is traceable to the sacred syllable "Om" (also written as "AUM") of the Vedic religion. So it is especially elaborated upon in the Vedas. For example, the Atharva Veda (Mandukay Upanishad) and the Yajur Veda (Taittiriya Upanishad) define it as follows:

  • Hari Om. Om-ity-etad-aksharam-idam sarvam, tasyopavyakhyanam bhutam bhavad bhavishyaditi sarvam-omkara eva. Yaccanyat trikalatitam tadapy omkara eva.: Harihi Om. Om - This syllable is this whole (universe). Its further explanation is: All that is past, present and future, verily, is Omkaar. And whatever else there is, beyond the threefold division of time - that also is truly Omkaar (Mandukay Upanishad 1).
  • Oankaar paadsho vidyat paadaa maatraa na ssamsayah; Oankaar paadsho jnyatwa na kinchidipi chintayet: The Omkaar syllable should be known quarter by quarter. There is no doubt, indeed, that the quarters are the same as the letters. Having grasped (understood) thus the full significance of Omkaar, one should not think of anything else of (Mandukay Upanishad, Agama Prakarana 24).
  • Om iti Braham. Om itidam sarvam: Om is the Absolute Reality. All this (the entire universe) is Om (Taittiriya Upanishad I-8).

The Gurbani says:

  • ਓਅੰਕਾਰਿ ਉਤਪਾਤੀ: Oankaari outpaatee (sggs 1003).
  • ਓਅੰਕਾਰਿ ਬ੍ਰਹਮਾ ਉਤਪਤਿ ॥ ਓਅੰਕਾਰੁ ਕੀਆ ਜਿਨਿ ਚਿਤਿ ॥: Oankaari Brahmaa outpati. Oankaaru keeaa jini chiti (sggs 929).

2. ਸਤਿਨਾਮ: Satinaam

The Naam translates as Name. The Naam (of "Ik Oankaar") is "Sat" (ਸਚ, True, Truth, Existence, Beginningless), meaning that which just is true in three times: past, present and future (i.e., Eternal). The term "Sat" comes from the Sanskrit word "Satya". God's Name is Truth. Hence, "Satinaam" (also spelt Satnam) refers to the Eternal "Ik Oankaar" (ਸਦੀਵੀ ਹੋਂਦ), which is Truth as well as Existence True in the past, True now and will be True in the future (or the One without beginning, middle or end). The point to note here is that the Name (Naam) and the object signified by the Name are one and the same! Therefore, simply put, Naam is the Divine Essence (Aatam-Giaan, Brahm-Giaan...). The Truth (ਸਚ...) is Realized by constantly reflecting on it.

In this way, Satinam simply indicates Divine Knowledge (Brahm-Giaan, Eternal Knowledge-ਅਮਰ ਗਿਆਨ, ਸਚ ਦਾ ਗਿਆਨ...) of the Truth.

  • ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੋ ਦੇਇ ਦ੍ਰਿੜਾਇ ॥: Gur Giaan padaarath naamu hai hari naamo dei drirhaai (sggs 759).
  • ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ॥ ਜਗ ਮਹਿ ਸ੍ਰੇਸਟੁ ਊਤਮ ਕਾਮੁ ॥: Nirabhou nirankaaru sati naamu. Jag mahi srestu ootam kaamu (sggs 998).

In other words, the Infinite and the Eternal "Ik Oankaar" is not there yonder and at some other time or something to be known after death. It's Here and Now ("Haajraa Hajoor"). Each moment (or breath) is an opportunity given to us to live as the "Ik Oankaar". Most of us miss it because either we live in the past (which is dead) or in the unknown future (the womb of time).

3. ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖ: Kartaa Purakh

"Kartaa" refers to Creator, Doer, etc. The word "Purakh" has many meanings. But, in the SGGS it primarily indicates the Transcendental Reality (ਸਚ) that is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient (Intelligent Conscious). The entire creation is pervaded with this Infinite, Timeless, or Universal Truth.

Simply put: Karataa Purukh is the name of the Infinite Energy that exists in Satinaam. In essence, thus, Karataa Purukh is Satinaam. Furthermore, as Satinaam is Formless, Karataa Purukh is also Formless.

  • ਤੂੰ ਆਦਿ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਅਪਰੰਪਰੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਜੀ ਤੁਧੁ ਜੇਵਡੁ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ॥: Toon aadi purakhu aparanpar karataa jee tudhu jevadu avaru n koee (sggs 11).
  • ਏਕੋ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਏਕੁ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਜਾਤਾ ਦੂਜਾ ਅਵਰੁ ਨ ਕੋਈ ॥: Eko purakhu eku prabhu jaataa doojaa avaru n koee (sggs 1259).

4. ਨਿਰਭਉ: Nirbhaou

"Bhaou" means fear, and "Nir"means without (or devoid of). Hence, the "Ik Oankaar" is without fear. Why is He devoid of fear? Duality (Doojaa Bhaav, two-ness or the notion of "others") gives rise to fear. Not being subject to any other (or second), and not being subject to needs (desires, etc.), He is fearless. As revealed by Baabaa Nanak here, there is no duality in the Absolute "Ik Oankaar". Hence, He is without fear, and He is all Bliss (Anand).

  • ਤੁਮ ਗਾਵਹੁ ਮੇਰੇ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਕਾ ਸੋਹਿਲਾ ॥: Tum gaavahu mere nirabhou kaa sohilaa (sggs 12).
  • ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਦਇਅਲੀਆ ॥: Nirabhou nirankaaru daialeeaa (sggs 1004).

In this way, an individual being in this world on account of conditioning cannot be Nirbhaou - only the Formless Parmeshar is Nirbhaou.

5. ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ: Nirvairu

"Vairu" means enmity, hostility, hate, ill-will, vengeance, etc. "Nir" means without (or devoid of). Thus, the "Ik Oankaar" is without hate or enmity. Why? As discussed before, God is without a second (Non-dual). Then against whom is He to have "Vair"? All divisions and differences are created by the self-erected walls such as the body-mind-intellect personality (Haume), which, in its own delusion, feels for itself a separate entity or individual. But the "Ik Oankaar" is with no such delusory identification, distinctions and divisions. So He is said here to be without "Vair". Instead, God is understood to be all Pure Love, dwelling deep within us, free from negativity such as selfishness ("mine, mine"), hate or enmity.

  • ਜੁਗਿ ਜੁਗਿ ਥਾਪਿ ਸਦਾ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ॥: Jugi jugi thaapi sadaa niravairu (sggs 931).
  • ਨਿਰਹਾਰੀ ਕੇਸਵ ਨਿਰਵੈਰਾ ॥: Nirahaaree kesav niravairaa (sggs 98).
  • ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰੰਕਾਰੁ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਪੂਰਨ ਜੋਤਿ ਸਮਾਈ ॥: Nirabhaou nirankaaru niravairu pooran joti samaaee (sggs 596).

In this way, an individual being in this world on account of conditioning cannot be Nirvairu - only the Formless Parmeshar is Nirvairu.

6. ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ: Akaal Moorati

"Kaal" translates as time, and "Akaal" translates as "not subject to time" (i.e., beyond time). Time denotes change. For example, if their is the birth, then there is the death. Hence "Akaal" means that Eternal Entity, which is beyond change (i.e., birth and death etc.). "Moorati" literally means form, image, shape etc. Combining these two terms, "Akaal Moorati" implies "Ik oankaar" is beyond time, space, form and features (Supreme Absolute Reality, Undying, without origin, without beginning and ending). He is Changeless, Immortal, Timeless and forever the same. Change is only for the deluded or conditioned consciousness (Haume- or ego-mind). In the "Joti-Svaroopa", there is no such defilement.

  • ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਵਰੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਨਾ ਕਦੇ ਮਰੈ ਨ ਜਾਇਆ ॥: Akaal moorati varu paaiaa abinaasee naa kade marai na jaaiaa (sggs 78).
  • ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਜਿਸੁ ਕਦੇ ਨਾਹੀ ਖਉ ॥: Akaal moorati jisu kade naahee khou (sggs 1082).

7. ਅਜੂਨੀ: Ajoonee

"Ajoonee" translates as "beyond birth or who does not take birth". Hence, the "Ik Oankaar" is Unborn - free from the cycle of births and deaths. Simply put: "Joni" implies that God is not subject to birth and death.

  • ਸੋ ਮੁਖੁ ਜਲਉ ਜਿਤੁ ਕਹਹਿ ਠਾਕੁਰ ਜੋਨੀ ॥: So mukhu jalaou jitu kahahi thaakur jonee (sggs 1136).
  • ਆਇ ਨ ਜਾਵੈ ਮੇਰਾ ਪ੍ਰਭੁ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ॥: Aai n jaavai prabh abinaasee (sggs 562).

In this way, an individual being in this world on account of being an embodied-being cannot be Ajonee - only the Formless Parmeshar is Ajonee.

8. ਸੈਭੰ: Saibhan

"Saibhan" (also seen pronounced as Saibhang, etc.) simply indicates that the "Ik Oankaar" is All-Powerful ("ਸਮਰਥੁ") - He can Create and Destroy. It simply means that the the "Ik Oankaar" is All-Able and evrything possible for Him (ਤਾਕਤ ਵਾਲਾ, ਸੱਤਿਆ ਵਾਲਾ, ਸਭ ਤਾਕਤਾਂ ਦਾ ਮਾਲਕ, ਸਭ ਕੁਝ ਕਰ ਸਕਣ ਵਾਲਾ...).

  • ਹਰਿ ਇਕੋ ਮੇਰਾ ਮਸਲਤੀ ਭੰਨਣ ਘੜਨ ਸਮਰਥੁ ॥: Hari eko meraa masalatee bhannan gharran samarathu (sggs 958).
  • ਆਪੀਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੈ ਆਪੁ ਸਾਜਿਓ ਆਪੀਨ੍ਹ੍ਹੈ ਰਚਿਓ ਨਾਉ ॥: Aapeenaih aap saajio aapeenaih rachio naaou (sggs 463).

9. ਗੁਰਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ: Gurprasaadi

"Gurprasaadi" is made of two terms - Gur" and "Prasaadi". The term "Gur" indicates Giaan (ਗਿਆਨ, or the Giaan-Satigur...) as described in the preceding eight statements. "Prasaadi" (or Prsaad, Parsaad) translates as "Grace", "Nadar" or "Kirpaa". Hence, "Gurprasaadi" implies that Oneness with the One Truth is realized with the Grace of the Gur-Giaan (Light of the Knowledge / Wisdom of the Gurbani, ਗਿਆਨ ਸਰੂਪ ਸਤਿਗੁਰੂ...). However, for the grant of This Grace, we need to understand the Gurbani through earnest Vichaar (Shabad-Vichaar) and live it. Thus, the Mool Mantra urges us to bring one's divided consciousness or duality-Doojaa Bhaav- in tune (i.e., becoming Saabat, Pooran, Pooraa...) with the Mool (One Truth - Joti-Svaroopa, Pure Consciousness, Pure Budhi...) within through the Giaan (Divine Knowledge, Gurmat, ਗਿਆਨ ਧੰਨ, ਨਾਮ ਧੰਨ...) of the Gurbani.

  • ਆਪਨ ਆਪੁ ਆਪ ਮੋ ਦਰਸੈ ॥ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਗੁਰੂ ਆਤਮਾ ਪਰਸੈ ॥ ਇਕ ਛਾਡਿ ਕੈ ਅਨਤ ਨ ਧਾਵੈ ॥ ਤਬ ਹੀ ਪਰਮ ਤਤੁ ਕੋ ਪਾਵੈ ॥੧੭੮॥: Aapan Aapu Aap Mo Darsai. Antari Guroo Aatmaa Parsai. Ik Chhaadi Kai Anat Na Dhaavai. Tab Hee param Tatu Ko Paavai ||178|| (Dasam Granth, 1247).
  • ਅੰਤਰਿ ਗੁਰੁ ਆਰਾਧਣਾ: Antari Guru Aaraadhanaa (sggs 517).
  • ਗੁਰਿ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਬਦੁ ਵਸਾਇਆ: Guri antari sabadu vasaaiaa (sggs 73).
  • ਗੁਰੁ ਮੇਰਾ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਗੁਰੁ ਰਿਦੈ ਧਿਆਨੁ ॥: Guru meraa giaanu Guru ridai dhiaan (sggs 864).
  • ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਮੈ ਸੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਜਾ ਕਾ ਨਾਉ ਬਿਬੇਕੋੁ ॥੪॥੫॥: Kahu kabeer mai so guru paaiaa jaa kaa naaou bibeko(u) ||4||5|| (sggs 793).
  • ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੋ ਦੇਇ ਦ੍ਰਿੜਾਇ ॥: Gur Giaan padaarath naamu hai hari naamo dei drirhaai: (sggs 759).

This Giaan destroys the Durmat (corrupt, conditioned, or crooked intellect, etc.) and Enlightened the mind.

In other words, one cannot Realize the One Truth either through reassuring, logic, philosophic speculations, etc., or through ritual practices like pilgrimages, outer display of religion (Bhekh-ਭੇਖ...), fasting on sacred days and so on. It is only through the Grace of the Giaan (ਸਚ ਦਾ ਗਿਆਨ, Divine Knowledge, Spiritual Wisdom...) one may Realize, know, or understand his Mool within.

  • Giaan Guroo Aatam Oupdeshahu Naam Bibhoot Lagaao||1|| (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Dasam Granth).

In summary, this Sikh Fundamental Creed or "Mool Mantra" revealed by Baabaa Nanak summarizes the Essence of his Message. It sums up Sikh beliefs about One Truth and encapsulates the entire Sikh theology.

To put in a nutshell, the remaining Bani (ਬਾਣੀ) of the SGGS is an elaboration of this "Mool Mantra" and revolves around this main Message. The tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Gobind Singh Jee, eternally sealed these teachings along with the Sikh theology in the SGGS.

A note on gender: the Sikh philosophy does not attribute particular gender to God; it's only for the ease of writing and reading that a pronoun "he" for the Lord (or human beings) is used herein , but surely the Lord (and Soul, which is His "Ansh" or part-and-parcel) being Formless Energy ("Tribhavan Joti") transcends all gender.

  • ਨ ਨਰ ਹੈ ॥ ਨ ਨਾਰ ਹੈ ॥: N nar hai. N naar hai (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Akaal Ustat, Dasam Granth).
  • ਸੁੰਨ ਮੰਡਲ ਇਕੁ ਜੋਗੀ ਬੈਸੇ ॥ ਨਾਰਿ ਨ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਕੋਊ ਕੈਸੇ ॥: Sunn mandal iku Yogee baise. Naar na purakhu ukahahu ko-oo kaise (sggs 685).

— T. Singh