The "Mul Mantar" (Punjabi: ਮੂਲ ਮੰਤਰ, Mūl Maṃtar, pronounced Mool Mantar) is the first composition in the Sikh holy text and living Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib, written in Punjabi. It is a series of affirmations and is the basis of Sikh theology, as well as the fundamental prayer. The Mul Mantar is the first composition of Guru Nanak. The Guru Granth Sahib begins with the Mul Mantar and it occurs more than one hundred times throughout the text where it is placed at the beginning of the particular Shabad. Bhai Mani Singh explains that the reason for placing the Mul Mantar at the beginning of a Shabad is that a Gursikh (Guru's Sikh) should remember that everything else will eventually be annihilated and only the Satnam (All-pervading Supreme Reality) will remain. It can be considered as the moral or the sole truth of the universe and a brief description of the God. The Mul Mantar is the most widely known part of Sikh scripture but it has posed a challenge to translators.
The text of the Mul Mantar
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha'u niravair(u) akāl(a) mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan gur(a) prasād(i).
“One Universal creator God, The supreme Unchangeable Truth and that is the Onkar, The Creator of the Universe, Beyond Fear, Beyond Hatred, Beyond Death, Beyond Birth, Self-Existent, by the Guru's Grace”
* The small letters in parentheses are not etymologically part of the word but are included in the Guru Granth Sahib for liturgical recitation.
A Mantar or Mantra is "an empowering formula for repetition". The Mul Mantar is thus the root statement of Sikhism.
The Mul Mantar consists of nouns and adjectives but no verbs or pronouns. In addition, the nouns in the Mul Mantar do not have exact counterparts in European languages and the Gurmukhi script does not distinguish between upper and lower case letters. Thus, it poses a challenge to translators.
The first affirmation, for example, Ik Onkar has been rendered multiple ways. It has been translated as "'There is one god', as ‘One reality is’, and ‘This being is one’" and the varying capitalization of "God", "Reality", or "Being" affects the meaning in English.
A number of translations erroneously change the Mul Mantar from a list of qualities to a statement of facts and Possessive adjectives. For example, they may change Satnam from "truth by name" to "His name is truth", which adds a masculine quality to God which does not appear in the original Gurmukhi.
There is some controversy on where the Mul Mantar ends. The Mul Mantar ends with "Gurprasad", as in "provided by the Guru's grace." After this is the name of the Bani "Jap", and the first line of the Jap Bani. This can be corroborated by the number of times that the mantar appears at the beginning of every Raag, as well as the shortened version, before major Banis. However, many scholars believe this to be also part of the Mul Mantar.