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Make Your Deeds The Soil – Persian Voice in the Guru Granth Sahib
ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੩ ॥
sirīrāgu mahalā 1 ghar 3.
Sri Rag, First Embodiment, Ghar 3.
ਅਮਲੁ ਕਰਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਬੀਜੁ ਸਬਦੋ ਕਰਿ ਸਚ ਕੀ ਆਬ ਨਿਤ ਦੇਹਿ ਪਾਣੀ ॥
amalu kari dhartī bīju sabdo kari sac kī āb nit dehi pāṇī.
Make your deeds the soil, Wisdom the seed, give it the water of the river of Eternal Truth.
ਹੋਇ ਕਿਰਸਾਣੁ ਈਮਾਨੁ ਜੰਮਾਇ ਲੈ ਭਿਸਤੁ ਦੋਜਕੁ ਮੂੜੇ ਏਵ ਜਾਣੀ ॥੧॥
hoi kirsāṇu īmānu jammāi lai bhistu dojaku mūṛe ēv jāṇī.1.
Become a farmer that grows faith, O’ ignorant one! This is how hell and heaven is known.1.
ਮਤੁ ਜਾਣ ਸਹਿ ਗਲੀ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
matu jāṇ sahi galī pāiā.
Do not think the Owner (Divine) is found by talking.
ਮਾਲ ਕੈ ਮਾਣੈ ਰੂਪ ਕੀ ਸੋਭਾ ਇਤੁ ਬਿਧੀ ਜਨਮੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
māl kai māṇai rūp kī sobhā itu bidhī janamu gavāiā.1.rahāu.
Pride in opulence or praising physical beauty, life is lost this way.1.Pause-reflect.
ਐਬ ਤਨਿ ਚਿਕੜੋ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਮੀਡਕੋ ਕਮਲ ਕੀ ਸਾਰ ਨਹੀ ਮੂਲਿ ਪਾਈ ॥
aib tani cikaṛo ihu manu mīḍako kamal kī sār nahī mūli pāī.
The defects of the body are the mud, this mind a frog, but there is no essence of lotus-flower at all.
ਭਉਰੁ ਉਸਤਾਦੁ ਨਿਤ ਭਾਖਿਆ ਬੋਲੇ ਕਿਉ ਬੂਝੈ ਜਾ ਨਹ ਬੁਝਾਈ ॥੨॥
bhaüru ustādu nit bhākhiā bole kiu būjhai jā nah bujhāī.2.
The bumblebee is a skilled teacher who speaks daily. But how can one understand, when (the 1) doesn’t make one understand? .2.
ਆਖਣੁ ਸੁਨਣਾ ਪਉਣ ਕੀ ਬਾਣੀ ਇਹੁ ਮਨੁ ਰਤਾ ਮਾਇਆ ॥
ākhaṇu sunaṇā paüṇ kī bāṇī ihu manu ratā māiā.
Delivering these messages and hearing them is like listening to the wind’s instruction, this mind is imbued with deception.
ਖਸਮ ਕੀ ਨਦਰਿ ਦਿਲਹਿ ਪਸਿੰਦੇ ਜਿਨੀ ਕਰਿ ਏਕੁ ਧਿਆਇਆ ॥੩॥
khasam kī nadari dilahi pasinde jinī kari eku dhiāiā.3.
Those who contemplate on the 1, feel the Owner’s (Divine) grace in their hearts.3.
ਤੀਹ ਕਰਿ ਰਖੇ ਪੰਜ ਕਰਿ ਸਾਥੀ ਨਾਉ ਸੈਤਾਨੁ ਮਤੁ ਕਟਿ ਜਾਈ ॥
tīh kari rakhe panj kari sāthī nāu saitānu matu kaṭi jāī.
You may keep thirty fasts [during Ramzan], make your five companions [the five daily prayers], thinking Shaytan has lost your name.
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਰਾਹਿ ਪੈ ਚਲਣਾ ਮਾਲੁ ਧਨੁ ਕਿਤ ਕੂ ਸੰਜਿਆਹੀ ॥੪॥੨੭॥
nānaku ākhai rāhi pai calaṇā mālu dhanu kit kū sanjiāhī.4.27.
Nanak declares, walk the path, for what reason are you accumulating possessions and wealth.4.27.
ਸਿਰੀਰਾਗੁ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੪ ॥
sirīrāgu mahalā 1 ghar 4.
Sri Rag, First Embodiment, Ghar 4.
ਸੋਈ ਮਉਲਾ ਜਿਨਿ ਜਗੁ ਮਉਲਿਆ ਹਰਿਆ ਕੀਆ ਸੰਸਾਰੋ ॥
soī maülā jini jagu maüliā hariā kīā sansāro.
That one who greened and created the world, greened and created the vegetation of the world.
ਆਬ ਖਾਕੁ ਜਿਨਿ ਬੰਧਿ ਰਹਾਈ ਧੰਨੁ ਸਿਰਜਣਹਾਰੋ ॥੧॥
āb khāku jini bandhi rahāī dhannu sirjaṇhāro.1.
Bonded, kept together water and dust, formed into clay. O’ Glory to the Creator!
ਮਰਣਾ ਮੁਲਾ ਮਰਣਾ ॥
marṇā mulā marṇā.
O Mullah, death, death…
ਭੀ ਕਰਤਾਰਹੁ ਡਰਣਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
bhī kartārahu ḍarṇā.1. Rahāu.
So be afraid [in reverence], of the Creator. Pause-reflect.
ਤਾ ਤੂ ਮੁਲਾ ਤਾ ਤੂ ਕਾਜੀ ਜਾਣਹਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਖੁਦਾਈ ॥
tā tū mulā tā tū kājī jāṇahi nāmu khudāī.
You are a Mullah, you are a Qazi, only if you know Khuda’s name.
ਜੇ ਬਹੁਤੇਰਾ ਪੜਿਆ ਹੋਵਹਿ ਕੋ ਰਹੈ ਨ ਭਰੀਐ ਪਾਈ ॥੨॥
je bahuterā paṛiā hovahi ko rahai na bharīai pāī.2.
If someone is learned, they know they cannot remain here when cup of life is filled.2.
ਸੋਈ ਕਾਜੀ ਜਿਨਿ ਆਪੁ ਤਜਿਆ ਇਕੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਕੀਆ ਆਧਾਰੋ ॥
soī kājī jini āpu tajiā iku nāmu kīā ādhāro
That is the true Qazi, one who forsakes self, and makes the Divine-Identification the support.
ਹੈ ਭੀ ਹੋਸੀ ਜਾਇ ਨ ਜਾਸੀ ਸਚਾ ਸਿਰਜਣਹਾਰੋ ॥੩॥
hai bhī hosī jāi na jāsī sacā sirjaṇhāro.3.
The Eternal Creator is. Does not leave, and will never leave. 3.
ਪੰਜ ਵਖਤ ਨਿਵਾਜ ਗੁਜਾਰਹਿ ਪੜਹਿ ਕਤੇਬ ਕੁਰਾਣਾ ॥
panj vakhat nivāj gujārahi paṛahi kateb kurāṇā.
You offer Namaz five times, read the holy books, the Quran.
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਆਖੈ ਗੋਰ ਸਦੇਈ ਰਹਿਓ ਪੀਣਾ ਖਾਣਾ ॥੪॥੨੮॥
nānaku ākhai gor sadeī rahio pīṇā khāṇā.4.28.
Nanak says, the grave is calling, your food and drink will remain unfinished.4.28.
Guru Nanak Sahib in Sri Rag | Guru Granth Sahib 24
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.
In the previous Sabad of this series, we saw how Guru Nanak Sahib uses Persian to communicate the Sikh paradigm within an Islamic context. Here two consecutive Sabads reveal parallel messages: first how to cultivate Eternal Principles in this life, and second, how to live such that we are free from the fear of death. These Sabads build upon the worldview Guru Nanak Sahib expressed in that Sabad. Guru Nanak Sahib does not use Persian grammar in these Sabads, but instead specific Perso-Arabic terminology, in order to reveal the ways in which we can live through principles of IkOankar (1-Ness) in our daily lives. The Perso-Arabic vocabulary grounds the Sabad here and elsewhere in the Persian Voice series in an Islamic context. Guru Nanak Sahib’s messages do not live in the abstract, they are exhibited through mention of concrete practices, therefore it is fitting to invoke the lived practices of the audience in mind at the point in which Sabad is revealed. This commentary focuses on these words and the messages they convey. Spellings are listed for vocabulary of Perso-Arabic origin.
Guru Nanak Sahib begins by describing how one can literally cultivate īmān (ایمان), or faith. Faith is not an abstract notion. Physical acts of determined hard work allow for it to flourish. The type of deeds, amal (امل) are the soil we plant the bīj (بضر) or seed of Wisdom in, and it can only grow if Truth flows over it continuously. In the Sikh paradigm, there is physical hell, dojaku (دوزخ) or heaven, jāṇī (الخنه). Though this world is temporary, we live in 1-Ness in our current lives, therefore we can live a liberated existence both now and after our deaths.
By cultivating faith through earnest hard work, and living truthfully, we live in that “heavenly” state as other religions may describe it.
By living selfishly or exploiting others, we suffer, and live in a state of “hell”.
Throughout this Sabad, we are reminded that our words alone do not bring us liberation, our deeds must match them. External expressions are meaningless without an internal effort, likewise, the external value of physical beauty and material wealth will ultimately bring us no liberation. The true meaning of our lives is lost if we focus on these distractions. We continue to be weighed down by our aib (عیب) or defects, and the lotus flower that could give us liberation from the mud, like the frog that floats effortlessly above, cannot be created through material possessions.
In the next line, Guru Nanak Sahib invokes a bhaur (etymologically close to the Persian word) زنبور) or bumblebee, that is attempting to teach us a message that we cannot understand. Guru Nanak Sahib explains that the Divine cannot make us understand. We must choose to stop and listen. This is central to the Sikh paradigm, we are all a part of 1, what stops us from reaching our true potential is our willingness to listen and accept. This is not an easy task, it is like listening to the wind, and requires focus, for our mind is filled with obstacles to the acceptance of 1-Ness. But with earnest effort and remembrance of the 1, we are all capable of feeling the Divine.
The Divine cannot be felt through ritual alone. Guru Nanak Sahib reminds us that even one who observes all thirty fasts of Ramzan (Ramadan), who prays five times a day as prescribed by Islam, can still be in the company of Shaytan (Satan). Shaytan can still hold their name. We must be walking a path towards Truth, not focused on material wealth, to be truly free. The Creator is all-encompassing, the Creator greened the world and bound khāk (خاک) or dust/soil and āb (آب ) or water, to create the clay that is the Earth.
Guru Nanak Sahib tells the Mullah, death, death, we cannot avoid it.
But if we understand death as an inevitable process in 1-Ness, we can conquer our human fear. To be unafraid of being 1 with the Creator, and ultimately losing our sense of self, we must truly know Khuda, the Creator. The truly learned know that their time existing as “self” is limited. The pai Guru Nanak Sahib references is a cup with a hole at the bottom to indicate the completion of a period of time. The empty cup is placed on water; when it fully sinks, it is an indication that time is up. Again, the true Qazi must be ready to forsake self, and make the Divine Name their support in this humbling process.
Investment in spiritual work should not be an investment in self with the hope of earning a ticket to a better place, like a physical heaven. Rather, one’s spiritual work should be oriented toward dismantling self, such that the place we are in no longer matters. An embrace of Eternal Principles that extend beyond self becomes an embrace of death, one no longer holds fear knowing that whether they are in this life or past the point of death, one is still in 1-Ness. Unlike us, the Eternal Creator is, does not leave, and will not leave. And no matter what, even if a Muslim prays five times a day, reads the Old Testament and the Quran, there will be a time when the grave calls, even if we are not ready. Even if we leave our last meal unfinished.
The Persian Voice of the Guru is an unparalleled effort to elucidate the meaning of 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 to Inni Kaur for reflections on how to convey the true essence of the Sabad. 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 writing Sabad in Perso-Arabic script to reassert gurbani's place in the Persian literary world.