464.The Man in Blue – Japji Sahib

Japji Sahib is the first shabad in the Guru Granth Sahib, and is preceded by a statement on God’s qualities which starts with Ik Ongkár and ends with Gurprasád.

Neither before the title ‘Jap’ nor after it is a rág or mahala 1 (Guru Nanak) indicated, as you would find elsewhere in the Guru Granth Sahib.

The opening slok, Ád sach till Hosí bhí sach followed by (1) is also found in Gauri Sukhmaní, Mahala 5 on page 285 of the Guru Granth Sahib.

After the slok are 38 verses, and Japji Sahib ends with the well known slok ‘pavan gurú paní pita’. This same slok, with some slight differences that do not affect the meaning, is as Slok Mahalá 2 part of Vár Májh on page 146.

Comparing Guru Nanak’s Jap with other long compositions like Anand Sahib and Sukhmaní Sahib one notices that there is no unity of metre, rhyme or length of the verses, or even the length of the lines within the verses.

Looking at the ‘technical’ aspects of the spiritual poetry that we find in the Guru Granth Sahib is almost like looking at the frame around a painting. One of these ornate affairs with gold paint fits a picture of one of the seventeenth century Dutch masters, but would be out of place around a painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Guru chose a rág that fitted the mood of the shabad. The form of the shabad, the number of verses, whether there is a rahao line or not, the rhythm built into the text, all these like the rág are there to strengthen the teachings.

Our number one concern must of course be with the meaning of the words. There are very learned people who can tell us all about the meaning of the more difficult to understand words that we find in the Guru Granth Sahib.

But please before losing yourself in the details, first take a step back and look at the overall ‘picture’. If you look at a picture close up, using a magnifying glass, you might see interesting structures in the paint, but you will not see the painting.

I’ll illustrate this by two examples. First we look at verses 8 till 11 of Japji, all starting with ‘suniai’, followed by verse 12 till 15 that all start with mannai. ‘Listen’ and ‘apply’ are the meanings of these words.

Listen to Nám, listen to the word of God, and apply what you learned in your daily life. Once you understand this you are ready to look at these verses in detail.

Verses 34 till 37 discuss the steps to take to get to God. Guru uses both difficult words and difficult concepts here, but as long as you understand the words Dharm, Gián, Saram, Karam and Sach as the steps on the way you will not get lost.

Published in: on March 20, 2011 at 9:07 am  Comments (1)  
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463.The Man in Blue – Har, Rám and Yahweh

‘Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har, Har’

The other morning Bhagat Kabir, one of the most brilliant spiritual poets ever, told me to say the two letters. There was a note underneath the text explaining that this means that we should say Rám.

Why Rám and not Har, and anyway both words have three letters, don’t they ?  

I do not know why Manmohan Singh, the man who did the SGPC translation of the Guru Granth Sahib, thinks that Kabir wanted us to repeat Rám rather than Har. Both words mean God, both words are often used in the Guru Granth Sahib and both words seem to have three letters but in reality have only two.

Old ‘alphabets’ often only provide us with consonants and either have no vowel symbols or have symbols for vowels that are not recognised as letters. The Gurmukhí ‘alphabet’ (from alpha and beta, the first two letters of the Greek alphabet) begins with three vowels, but even the sounds that these vowels represent are often indicated by symbols that do not count as letters, like lines underneath or above consonants.

 The Gurmukhí spelling of Har is ‘haha, sihari, rara’ or hir, whereby the sihari is pronounced after the consonant that it precedes. But if the consonant that the sihari precedes is the last letter of the word, the sihari is not pronounced at all, unless (there always is one) the last consonant is a haha or h. The sihari represents the sound found in words like ‘in’ or ‘is’.

There are deluded souls who pronounce Har as Harí. They have it wrong on two counts. The sihari should not be pronounced, and when the sihari is pronounced it is not an í or ‘ee’. Panjabi has much in common with Hindi, but is not the same.         

Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám, Rám’

The case of Rám is much simpler. The ‘a’ in the middle is not the Panjabi letter èra but a small vertical line ‘hanging’ in between the ‘rara’ and the ‘mama’. This little line also does not count as a letter, so Rám, just like Har qualifies as a word of two letters that should be repeated. Har is a generic word for God, Rám stands for God’s All-Pervading aspect.

 ‘Jah is my Keeper’

Jews are not supposed to write the name of God in full. I do not know whether the original Hebrew alphabet had vowel sounds, but all we have for the old-testament name of God are the consonants. Jehovah, Yahweh and the Jah of the Rastafarians are based on those consonants. ‘Jah is my keeper’ is a Rasta song based on a biblical text by the late Peter Tosh, that I love listening to.

462.The Man in Blue – Haryana, Rewari, Hondh-Chillar, 1984 Anti-Sikh Pogroms

The killing of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards is an act I understand in the context of the time, but I am not really proud of it.

Guru Gobind Singh was willing to visit Aurangzeb after he received a positive answer to his Zafarnama, in spite of the fact that Aurangzeb was responsible for the death of many Sikhs, including Guru’s close family members. Guru demonstrated the Sikh way of life.

This does not take away the enormity of what happened in 1984. Even if you agree with the Indian authorities that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was a terrorist, treating everybody who happened to be in Harmander Sahib during the June 1984 invasion by the Indian Army as terrorists was totally wrong.

What happened in Delhi and in Congress ruled states in India after the killing of Indira Gandhi was in no way justified by the act of the Sikhs bodyguards. Even if  Sikhs agreed with the killing of Indira Gandhi, that does not justify the killings, the rapes or the attacks on houses and Gurdwaras.

What happened in Delhi has been reported by various independent non-Sikh observers, and although the Indian authorities still live in denial, all independent sources agree that organised mass killings of innocents took place while the authorities looked on approvingly.

What happened in villages in Haryana and in other Congress ruled states was only observed by other powerless villagers and any documents pertaining to killings in those locations were easily be lost or buried in a heap of other dusty papers.

These attacks on Sikhs were not riots. I was involved in the group who brought out the Sikh Kristallnacht report, and that report rightly used the word ‘pogrom’. The report has been re-launched by the Network of Sikh Organisations UK (without fully acknowledging its source) and should still be available from them.

Under Adolf Hitler in Germany the ‘Kristallnacht’ was the start of the ‘final solution’ of the ‘Jewish question’. During the ‘Kristallnacht’ organised attacks on Jews and Jewish property took place. The ‘Kristallnacht’ was not a series of spontaneous riots that got badly out-of-hand, it was a state sponsored pogrom.

What are needed in all parts of India where Sikhs were killed and raped, Gurdwaras and Sikh houses set fire to, often with people still inside, are truth and justice committees.

All parties should come together and admit to mistakes made, crimes committed, and achieve reconciliation, as we might have seen between Guru Sahib and Aurangzeb, if the emperor had not passed away before Guru Gobind Singh arrived at his court.