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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446.The Man in Blue – Sabat Surat, Maru M 5, P1084

Sabat Surat, Maru M 5, P1084

Káiá kirdár aurat yakíná
Let good deeds be your body, and faith your bride.

Rang tamásé mán hakíná
Play and enjoy the Lord’s love and delight.

Nápák pák kar hadúr hadísá hadith sábat súrat dastár sirá (12)
Purify what is impure, and let the God’s Presence be your religious tradition. Let your total awareness be the turban on your head. ||12||

Translating Guru’s shabads is not easy, but when you do it you are forced to really think about Guru’s teachings. Translation is a form of víchár, which should not be an intellectual exercise, but involve all your faculties.

In this shabad Guru addresses Muslims and uses many ‘Muslim’ words. It is also a shabad that still requires a lot of work after translating word by word.

I have read all the 15 verses (pauris) of the shabad but I have selected verse 12 for further study, as in that verse the words ‘sábat súrat dastár sirá’ are used. The expression ‘sábat súrat’ does not figure anywhere else in the Guru Granth Sahib.

Translating word by word the first line becomes ‘body – manner – woman – faith’. It is quite a leap from the first two words to ‘let good deeds be your body’, but this interpretation does fit in the context of the shabad. Getting from ‘woman – faith’ to ‘and faith your bride’ is easier to understand.

‘Rang tamásé mán hakíná’ equals ‘colour – show – enjoy – God’. In gubani rang (colour) often means love, tamasa means show, mán means enjoy and hakíná stands for God, which I would make into ‘enjoy God’s show of love’.

‘Nápák pák kar’ is ‘make the impure pure’ and ‘hadúr hadísá hadith’ my Guru Granth Sahib dictionary translates into ‘in the presence of God’. Then we get to the second part of the last line which is often thought to be a message that we have to keep our hair intact and wear a ‘dastar’, which is Farsi for turban. 

My dictionary agrees with the Sikhítothemax translation above, Manmohan Singh translates ‘sábat súrat’ as ‘complete body’ but then the sentence is (make your) complete body the turban on your head, which makes less sense than the Sikhitothemax translation. Knowing that the shabad talks to turban wearing Muslims the association with unshorn hair seems far-fetched.

Turbans in those days were not only worn by some classes of ‘Indians’ but also by the ruling Mughals, and as Farsi was their court language they used the word dastar. Just like in pauri 28 of Japji Sahib Guru tells the yogis that they should wear the earrings of ‘santokh’, here the Guru says to the Muslim that the dastar on his head should be made of ‘total awareness’. This might not be the only valid interpretation of the text, but I just cannot see any justification for the traditional interpretation of this part of the shabad.