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Allah the Unseeable – Persian Voice in the Guru Granth Sahib
ਅਲਾਹੁ ਅਲਖੁ ਅਗੰਮੁ ਕਾਦਰੁ ਕਰਣਹਾਰੁ ਕਰੀਮੁ ॥
alāhu alakhu agammu kādaru karaṇhāru karīmu.
Allah is Unseeable, the Unattainable, the All-Powerful, the Creator-Maker, the Bountiful.
ਸਭ ਦੁਨੀ ਆਵਣ ਜਾਵਣੀ ਮੁਕਾਮੁ ਏਕੁ ਰਹੀਮੁ ॥੬॥
sabh dunī āvaṇ jāvaṇī mukāmu eku rahīmu.6.
All creation comes and goes, it is the Provider, the One that brings permanence.
ਮੁਕਾਮੁ ਤਿਸ ਨੋ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਸੁ ਸਿਸਿ ਨ ਹੋਵੀ ਲੇਖੁ ॥
mukāmu tis no ākhīai jisu sisi na hovī lekhu.
Only one who does not have destiny written on their forehead is in a state of permanence.
ਅਸਮਾਨੁ ਧਰਤੀ ਚਲਸੀ ਮੁਕਾਮੁ ਓਹੀ ਏਕੁ ॥੭॥
asmānu dartī chalasī mukāmu ohī eku.7.
The sky and earth goes, there is only permanence in the One.
ਦਿਨ ਰਵਿ ਚਲੈ ਨਿਸਿ ਸਸਿ ਚਲੈ ਤਾਰਿਕਾ ਲਖ ਪਲੋਇ ॥
din ravi calai nisi sasi calai tārikā lakh paloi.
The sun leaves after the day, the moon after the night, hundreds of thousands of stars vanish.
ਮੁਕਾਮੁ ਓਹੀ ਏਕੁ ਹੈ ਨਾਨਕਾ ਸਚੁ ਬੁਗੋਇ ॥੮॥੧੭॥
mukāmu ohī eku hai nānakā sacu bugoi.8.17.
Nanak tells the eternal-truth; there is only permanence in the One.
Guru Nanak Sahib in Sri Rag | Guru Granth Sahib 64
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 and South Asian vernacular speech is imported into Persian and vice versa, creating new deviations of standard pronunciations. The hybridized 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 created to help guide readers through the meaning of this Sabad and enrich understanding.
This Sabad (Divine Word) is comprised of complex hybridized language that contains a strong Persian influence. Much of the vocabulary is of Persian origin and incorporates Islamic references embedded in the Persianate culture of Guru Nanak Sahib’s era.
The six lines from this sabad on page 64 of the Guru Granth Sahib use Persian vocabulary to focus on a very specific Sufi principle of maqam ((مقام, or mukāmu as revealed in bani. The first line here begins with Guru Nanak Sahib describing Allah (اللّه), The Creator, using epithets from Islamic and Vedic traditions. Alakh, the Unseeable, from the Hindu lexicon, agam, the Unattainable, also from the Hindu lexicon, kādar (قدر) from “al-Qadr” or the All-Powerful, one of the 99 attributes of Allah in Islam. Karanehār, literally the Creator-Maker, and karīm (کریم) from “al-Kareem”, or the Bountiful, another one of the 99 attributes of Allah.
In the next line, the principle of maqam is introduced. Guru Nanak Sahib reminds us of the fleeting nature of this world, a consistent theme in all of these Persian-based sabads. The line literally states that the world comes and goes, but in opposition to this fleeting world is “ek rahīm,” (یک رحیم) which is associated with this principle maqam or “mukām.” Al-Raheem is another one of the 99 attributes of Allah. In the Islamic context it is usually translated as “The Merciful,” but this interpretation does not coincide with the Sikh paradigm. In the Sikh paradigm, The Creator does not have mercy on us because an act of mercy implies a hierarchy between us and the Divine. We are infinitesimally small alongside the Divine, for it is all-encompassing, but we are no less, for we are all a part of 1.
The Creator provides for us, for we are a part of it. To use a more easily accessible framework, one can imagine how we act towards the smaller parts of our own physical selves. When we get a small cut, we tend to it carefully, but not because we are taking mercy on a lesser being. We patch up our skin, for it is a part of us. Our skin cells may not be aware of the part they play, but they are all apart of our being. Likewise, each of us is a small cell of a larger 1. Our form comes and goes, and is shed like cells, but the body that remains permanent is that of the all-encompassing 1.
Maqam is not a simple way to indicate a sense of permanence. This principle carries a specific meaning within the Sufi tradition. Sufis believe that one can experience the Divine in two distinct ways, hāl (meaning state or condition), or maqam. Maqam in common Persian and Urdu usage means waystation or temporary abode, but here Guru Nanak Sahib is using the word to convey a particular message about its implications within the divine practice. The main difference between hāl and maqam in Sufi teachings is that hāl is a temporary state that is experienced without intention, a temporary euphoria when the Divine graces you with a glimpse. Though the word maqam literally means temporary abode, the state of being in maqam is never lost, because it is a state of experiencing the Divine that a Sufi has worked for. Once you reach a certain waystation, there is no going back.
Guru Nanak Sahib is using the word maqam here to tell us (bugoe is the subjunctive of the Persian verb goftan, “to say/tell”) that the only way to attain a truly permanent state of Divine being is to reunite with the 1. The final waystation is the 1. Guru Nanak Sahib references the Vedic teaching that destiny is written on our forehead, also found in the sabad “Hham Jjer Jjimī,” explaining that we all have an inevitable destiny in which our self will be destroyed, only the 1 does not. We will vanish, we all go in cycles, as the sun disappears after the day, the moon after the night, as stars explode at the end of their life. Only the 1 remains, and only the 1 can receive us at its final station. This Guru Nanak Sahib says, is the ultimate Truth.
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 these sabads. 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 my fellow staff members Jasleen Kaur, Damanpreet Singh, and Imroze Singh for their unwavering support, as well as Sean Holden for bringing our podcast series to life.
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.