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Light into the Dust
ਖਾਕ ਨੂਰ ਕਰਦੰ ਆਲਮ ਦੁਨੀਆਇ ॥
khāk nūr kardaṅ ālam dunīāi.
Infused light into the dust, and created the world, the universe.
خاک نور کردن عالم دنایی ||
ਅਸਮਾਨ ਜਿਮੀ ਦਰਖਤ ਆਬ ਪੈਦਾਇਸਿ ਖੁਦਾਇ ॥੧॥
asmān jimī darakhat āb paidāisi khudāī.1.
The sky, the earth, the trees, the water, all’s genesis is Khuda.1.
آسمان زمین درخت آب پیدایش خدایی||1||
ਬੰਦੇ ਚਸਮ ਦੀਦੰ ਫਨਾਇ ॥
bande casam dīdaṅ phanāī.
Servant, what you behold is fleeting.
بنده چشم دیدن فنای ||
ਦੁਨੀਂਆ ਮੁਰਦਾਰ ਖੁਰਦਨੀ ਗਾਫਲ ਹਵਾਇ ॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
dunīṁā murdār khurdanī ghāphal havāi. rahāu.
دنیا مردار خورد آنی غافل هوایی || وقفه ||
The world instantly eats corpses, unaware and desirous. Pause-Reflect.
ਗੈਬਾਨ ਹੈਵਾਨ ਹਰਾਮ ਕੁਸਤਨੀ ਮੁਰਦਾਰ ਬਖੋਰਾਇ ॥
gaibān haivān harām kustanī murdār bakhorāi.
Hidden is the beast that consumed the haram bodies that are condemned to death.
غیب آن حیوان حرام کشتنی مردار بخره ||
ਦਿਲ ਕਬਜ ਕਬਜਾ ਕਾਦਰੋ ਦੋਜਕ ਸਜਾਇ ॥੨॥
dil kabaj kabja kādaro dojak sajāi.2.
Take hold of what controls your heart, or hell is the retribution.2.
دل قبض قبضه کادرو دوزخ سزاه ||٢||
ਵਲੀ ਨਿਆਮਤਿ ਬਿਰਾਦਰਾ ਦਰਬਾਰ ਮਿਲਕ ਖਾਨਾਇ ॥
valī niāmati birādarā darbār milak khānāi.
Your guardian, assets, brothers, the court, the king’s castle.
ولی نعمت بردار دربار ملک خانه ||
ਜਬ ਅਜਰਾਈਲੁ ਬਸਤਨੀ ਤਬ ਚਿ ਕਾਰੇ ਬਿਦਾਇ ॥੩॥
jab ajrāīlu bastanī tab ci kāre bidāi.3.
When Azrael grabs you, of what use are they then?3.
جب عزرائيل بستانه تب چه کار باعده؟||٣||
ਹਵਾਲ ਮਾਲੂਮੁ ਕਰਦੰ ਪਾਕ ਅਲਾਹ ॥
havāl mālūmu kardaṅ pāk allāh.
Allah is pure, with awareness of your condition.
احوال معلوم کردن پاک الله ||
ਬੁਗੋ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਰਦਾਸਿ ਪੇਸਿ ਦਰਵੇਸ ਬੰਦਾਹ ॥੪॥੧॥
bugo nānak ardāsi pesi darves bandāh.4.1.
Nanak says, give a supplication before the dervish-servants.4.1.
بگوید نانک عرضدشت پیش درویش بنده ها||١||٤||
Guru Arjan Sahib in Rag Tilang | Guru Granth Sahib 723
Sabad is Infinite; we are very finite. This is our understanding at the moment, which was different yesterday and may evolve tomorrow, as we deepen our relationship with the Sabad. In this transcreation, we have chosen to keep the repeating words in the Sabad the same. We aspire to learn and retain the Divine attribute as used in the original Sabad and avoid terms like God or Lord.
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Reflections on this Transcreation
Persian-based Sabad is difficult to read and understand for both native Panjabi speakers and native Persian speakers. Panjabi grammar is imported into Persian and vice versa, creating new deviations of standard word spellings. The language of Gurbani takes influence from the languages of South Asia at the time (Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Braj, and many more) in which the bani was revealed, but often defies the rules of language and poetry to create new meaning. The language of Gurbani stands alone, therefore the following commentary was written to help guide readers through the meaning of this Sabad and enrich understanding.
This Sabad (Divine Word), in Rag Tilang of the Guru Granth Sahib, is one of the few Sabads by Guru Arjan Sahib revealed in fluent Persian speech. Guru Arjan Sahib begins by describing the elements infused together to form the creation that we see each day: soil, light, sky, earth, trees, water. These elements all make up the entirety, the macrocosm, of the universe-world. The origin or genesis of all of creation is khudā, the Creator. In the Sikh paradigm, the Creator is the culmination of all the vastness of creation, and simultaneously, the vastness of the Creator lies within creation. To acknowledge the vastness of Creator-creation is a breathtaking sight. However, Guru Arjan Sahib warns us, as he refers to the listener as “bande” or “servant” in Persian (a typical invocation found throughout the Bani of the Gurus and the Bhagats), that what we behold is fleeting.
In an instant, we can be taken out of our mortal thought processes. The world can consume us instantly, decompose us into the Earth, and we may continue to be unaware and filled with our ego’s desires until the very last moment. The only thing certain in life is death. Our bodies, referred to here by the Persian word murdār for “corpse,” are inherently kustanī, or condemned to death. Connecting back to the state of unawareness invoked in the previous line, this beast of death ready to take us is gaibān or hidden. And when we remain filled with desire, we are giving in to a harām or “forbidden” state of being.
In Islam, haram refers to that which is forbidden within the confines of Islamic law and is in opposition to halal, or permissible. In the Sikh paradigm, there is no heaven and hell reward system, therefore the way the Gurus invoke the haram-halal paradigm should be examined carefully to grasp its place within the structure of IkOankar (1-Ness). In the IkOankar paradigm, good and bad flow simultaneously from the Divine, for there is no Other at all. Rather than viewing haram and halal as value judgments of “good” or “bad,” one may imagine a state of alignment vs. struggle. A state of permissibility, of piety in the Sikh paradigm, reflects the reality of 1-Ness. Actions that fall into the category of impious, warned against, or forbidden, or in other words haram actions, are those which struggle against the reality of 1-Ness.
For example, we may spend our entire lives under the spell of ego, hoarding wealth for only ourselves and our associates. The Gurus warn against these actions, for they will ultimately crumble in the face of reality, in the vastness of 1-Ness. Guru Arjan Sahib clearly states, your guardian, assets, brothers, the court, the King’s castle, all of these exclusionary forms of maintaining wealth, power, and control, what use will they be when Azrael (the Angel of Death in the Abrahamic faiths) comes to grab you? Guru Arjan Sahib speaks to his intended audience using the stark imagery of death that they are most familiar with. To hoard, wealth is to forcefully keep resources from others, causing harm and suffering. In leading this life, we reduce ourselves to haram corpses, only alive in technical terms. To experience 1-Ness is to truly be alive, and to align ourselves with 1-Ness is to ensure the benefits of our resources are felt by all we are systemically connected to.
The tendency to be driven by ego does not make us “bad,” but we are urged to acknowledge these tendencies humbly in Gurbani. By doing so, we clear ourselves of obstacles as we carve a path toward a Divine way of life. The only being who does not suffer from an ever-present struggle with ego is - the pure One, Allah. Allah is omnipresent, and therefore intimately knows our flawed condition. Guru Arjan Sahib ends the Sabad by saying Nanak bugo, Nanak says, give a supplication before the dervish-servants. Dervishes in the Sufi context have committed to living a humble life. Let us seek out those who are committed to their humility, to distributing rather than holding on selfishly, and give them our supplication. We can request their guidance in emulating this way of life.
The Persian Voice of the Guru is an unparalleled effort to elucidate the Guru’s word as written in the Persian language in Gurmukhi script. I would like to thank the SikhRI team for their invaluable contributions in making this series possible. Thank you to Harinder Singh for helping transcreate complex hybridized language and Inni Kaur for reflections on how to convey the Sabad’s true essence. Much gratitude to Surenderpal Singh and Ebrahim Tahassoni for their insights in transcription, making it possible for this text to be read in multiple scripts. And most of all, thank you to Jasleen Kaur, Damanpreet Singh, and Imroze Singh for their unwavering support. And thank you to Sean Holden, without whom our work would not reach our audiences.
About the Author:
Asha Marie Kaur is a Research Assistant with SikhRI. She has a BA in Political Science and International Studies from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where she was born and raised. Her work at SikhRI is tied to her love of the Persian language and the ways it connects Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. She is working on re-introducing Sabad (Divine-Word) in the Guru Granth Sahib to the Persian world.