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.