Fill This Unbaked Vessel: O’ Creator – Persian voice in the Guru Granth Sahib
ਮਲਾਰ ਕੀ ਵਾਰ: (ਮਃ ੧)
Malar Ki Var, First Embodiment
ملار کی وار محل ۱
ਚਿਲਿ ਮਿਲਿ ਬਿਸੀਆਰ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਫਾਨੀ ॥
cili mīli bisīār dunīā phānī.
چهل میل بسیار دنیای فانی.
Too many desires of the mortal world.
ਕਾਲੂਬਿ ਅਕਲ ਮਨ ਗੋਰ ਨ ਮਾਨੀ ॥
kālūb akl man ger na mānī.
قلوب عقل من گور نمانی.
O’ my heart and mind do not dwell on the grave.
ਮਨ ਕਮੀਨ ਕਮਤਰੀਨ ਤੂ ਦਰੀਆਉ ਖੁਦਾਇਆ ॥
man kamīn kamtarīn tū darīāu khudāiā.
من کمین کمترین تودریا خدایا!
I am the least of the least, you are the Ocean, O’ Khuda (Creator)!
ਏਕੁ ਚੀਜੁ ਮੁਝੈ ਦੇਹਿ ਅਵਰ ਜਹਰ ਚੀਜ ਨ ਭਾਇਆ ॥
eku chīj mujhai dehi avar jahar chīj n bhāiā.
یک چیز مرا بدهی دیگر زهر چیز نبایا .
Give me one thing: other things are poison, they do not appeal [to me].
ਪੁਰਾਬ ਖਾਮ ਕੂਜੈ ਹਿਕਮਤਿ ਖੁਦਾਇਆ ॥
purāb khām kūjai hikamit khudāiā.
پر آب خام کوزه ی حکمت خدایا.
May this unbaked vessel be filled with the water of your wisdom, O’ Khuda (Creator)!
ਮਨ ਤੁਆਨਾ ਤੂ ਕੁਦਰਤੀ ਆਇਆ ॥
man tuvānā tū kudratī āiā.
مانا توانا تو قدرتی آیا .
My capability comes from this Creation-Power of yours.
ਸਗ ਨਾਨਕ ਦੀਬਾਨ ਮਸਤਾਨਾ ਨਿਤ ਚੜੈ ਸਵਾਇਆ ॥
sag Nānak dībān mastānā nit charai savāiā.
سگ نانک دیوان نیت چرایا مستانه سوایا.
Nanak is the Court’s dog, ever increasingly intoxicated.
ਆਤਸ ਦੁਨੀਆ ਖੁਨਕ ਨਾਮੁ ਖੁਦਾਇਆ ॥੨॥
ātash dunīā khunak nāmu khudāiā. 2.
آتش دنیا خنک نام خدایا. ۲.
Divine Remembrance is the cooling of the World-Fire, O’ Khuda (Creator)! . 2.
Guru Nanak Sahib in Rag Malar | Guru Granth Sahib 1291
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.
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 pronunciations. 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 this transcreation, the original Gurmukhi is followed by an English transcription to guide pronunciation of the Sabad (Divine Word) in its original form. The Persian recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib and standard Persian often have different pronunciations of words with the same meaning, and as such the Perso-Arabic transcription is written with spellings that allow a modern-day Persian reader to understand the text.
Mīl or meyl (میل) means “desire”. Cil or chel is used in place of “chehel” (چهل) or forty, and when used in older Persian texts denotes a great many. Phānī or fani (فانی) means mortal, in the sense that something is fleeting or temporary. Kālūb or qalub (قالوب) is the Arabic plural for “hearts”, and akl or aql (عقل) means mind/intellect. Ger or gor (گر) means grave. As is frequent for the Persian of this time and place, the prefix mi- is dropped before the present tense conjugation of the verb “māndan” (ماندن), meaning stay, remain, or dwell. The verb is conjugated in the form for “you”, indicating that Guru Nanak Sahib is speaking in the second person, invoking the heart and mind. This language is also used in the Persian Sabad of yak araj guphatam in which Guru Nanak Sahib also speaks directly to the del (دل), heart and mind, about the lack of awareness of impending death.
Kamīn (کمین) means least and is followed by kamtarīn (کمترین), the superlative of “kam” (کم) or small. Together this puts emphasis on Guru Nanak Sahib expressing being the smallest, the least of the least, in the face of the Divine. Water and cooling is a common metaphor for the Divine in this Sabad, starting with this line, in which the Creator is described as the ocean. In a hybridized line of Persian and Panjabi, Guru Nanak Sahib asks the One for one thing, for other things are jahar or poison, pronounced “zahr” (زهر) in standard Persian. Again, the Divine is represented as water, as Guru Nanak Sahib asks in the next line to be filled with water—purāb (پراب). Khām (خام) in Persian means crude or unfinished in a variety of ways--raw, unripe, or in this case unbaked. Kuje or kuze (کوزه) is the Urdu word for a traditional earthenware jug used to carry water. The addition of the long “i” acts as a definite article, denoting this specific unbaked vessel.
The Divine is represented as water, an important choice because an incomprehensible being is presented to the listener as a tangible force. The image of an unbaked vessel being filled up with Divine knowledge invokes the sakhi (witnessed narrative) in which while immersed in the River Bein, understanding of IkOankar (1-Ness) comes rushing into Guru Nanak Sahib’s consciousness (Puratan, 16-18). Guru Nanak Sahib uses the Persian word Khudā (خدا) to indicate the Creator in this Sabad, to place this Sabad in an Islamic context as per the Persian speaking political rulers in South Asia at the time. Within the paradigm of 1-Ness, we are all 1. Each of us is a drop in the ocean, but each drop contains the ocean. We are all units within a unit, the atoms that make up a grain of sand, the sand of every desert, the earth of every planet, the planets of every galaxy. Therefore, Guru Nanak Sahib acknowledges that an individual’s capability comes from the larger power of the Creator. Our cells make up our bodies, but our cells depend on the nourishment we provide them each day. Guru Nanak Sahib uses “tū” (تو) or you, and speaks directly to the Divine.
The Mughal Court becomes the physical hub for the Persian language during Guru Nanak Sahib’s time after the installment of Babar, who defeated Ibrahim Lodi of the Afghan Lodi dynasty (Ibrahim Lodi’s predecessor Sikandar Lodi was also a prolific Persian poet). The role of such dynasties gives way to imagery of the Court, regularly woven into Guru Nanak Sahib’s Sabad as a means of engaging with power structures. In this hybridized line, nit charai savāiā means ever increasing, literally 1.25 times more, and mastānā (مستانه) means drunk or intoxicated. The Sabad ends with Guru Nanak Sahib’s call for Nam (Remembrance), in which Sikhs use the recitation and recognition of the Creator, the ultimate sum of all Creation, as a means of opening themselves to 1-Ness and soothing the pain, represented here by fire--of living in the mortal world. In the mortal world we are surrounded by tempting illusions and ill-practice that encourages a focus on the self, but the notion that we are severed from Creation is an illusion. When we attempt to separate from 1-Ness, through the inflation of our ego, we are unwittingly causing a pain that we will constantly yearn to reconcile.
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 my fellow staff members Jasleen Kaur, Damanpreet Singh, and Imroze Singh for their unwavering support. Without Imroze Singh, none of SikhRI’s work would reach our audiences.
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.