From the Roman Catholic area of the Netherlands where I grew up I remember two images of God. One was the traditional old man-in-white-beard, a bit like a Guru picture without a turban. The other image was a big eye in a triangular frame, which portrayed God as the All-Seeing One.
As Sikhs we agree to the concept of the All-Seeing God. But God is neither an old-man-in-beard nor an old-woman-without-beard.
The Guru repeatedly refers to Mata and Pita, but this does not mean that God is sometimes a man and sometimes a woman. God is not either this or that; God is ‘Everything’ at all times. God is the Groom and we are all the brides, but God is also the brides, as God is All and All is God.
God is the One, God is the True Name, God is the Creator Being, God is the Wonderful Teacher, God is the Nourisher, God is the Liberator, God is the Biggest Giver, God is Limitless, God is not He, She or It, God is He-She-It, all of these and many more at the same time.
Most translators of the Guru Granth have been males from a patriarchal society and therefore used ‘He’ in all references to God. They also too often ‘translated’ the various words used to describe God’s qualities as ‘Lord’.
Of course if the original text uses a word that means ‘He’, we should translate ‘He’, if the text uses a word meaning Lord we should translate as Lord and if the word used for God is generic then we should translate God.
Panjabi does not really have a word for he or she. For instance ‘he is a granthi’ would be something like ‘this (a) granthi is’ in Panjabi.
According to Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Randir Singh Vahiguru is the Sikh word for God. I respect both and am very happy that they got spiritually uplifted by reciting ‘Vahiguru’. But this does not mean that it is a good idea to translate words like Prabhu, Har or Nirankar as Vahiguru.
Prabhu is I think a generic (general) word like God, and definitely has not got the specific meaning of ‘Wonderful Teacher’. Har has a specific meaning, but it does not mean ‘Lord’ or ‘Wonderful Teacher’, and where Guru repeats : Har, Har, Har, Har I just translate God, God, God, God.
Translating the Guru Granth is never easy because we are dealing with poetry that uses rhyme, metre and rhythm and poetic language. But we make things unnecessary difficult by getting even the simple things wrong. I plan to write more about translating the Guru Granth in the coming months, mainly stressing how it is not to be done and hopefully also giving some positive directions and examples.