O Creator: Listen – Persian voice in the Guru Granth Sahib
ਰਾਗੁ ਤਿਲੰਗ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ਘਰੁ ੧
راگه تیلانگ محل۱خانه ۱
Rag Tilang, First Embodiment, Ghar 1
ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥
ikoankar sati nāmu kartā purakhu nirbhau nirvairu akāl mūrati ajūnī saibhaṅ gur prasādi.
۱- اونکار ست نام کرتا پرکه نربهو نرویر اکال مورت اجونی سی بهنگ گرپرساد.
1 Reality, Eternal Identity, Creative Being, Fearless, Without Enmity, Beyond Time and Form, Self-Illuminated, realized by Perfection’s Grace!
ਯਕ ਅਰਜ ਗੁਫਤਮ ਪੇਸਿ ਤੋ ਦਰ ਗੋਸ ਕੁਨ ਕਰਤਾਰ ॥
yak araj guphatam pesi to dar gos kun kartār.
یک عرض گفتم پس تو در گوش کن کرتار .
I said one supplication so You listen, O Creator.
ਹਕਾ ਕਬੀਰ ਕਰੀਮ ਤੂ ਬੇਐਬ ਪਰਵਦਗਾਰ ॥੧॥
hakā kabīr karīm tū beaib parvadagār. 1.
حقا کبیر کریم تو بی عیب پروردگا ر. ۱.
Rightfully great, benevolent, You are flawless, O Cherisher. 1.
ਦੁਨੀਆ ਮੁਕਾਮੇ ਫਾਨੀ ਤਹਕੀਕ ਦਿਲ ਦਾਨੀ ॥
dunīā mukāme phānī tahkīk dil dānī.
دنیا مقام فانی تحقیق دل دانی.
The world is a temporary abode, you know this truth of mind.
ਮਮ ਸਰ ਮੂਇ ਅਜਰਾਈਲ ਗਿਰਫਤਹ ਦਿਲ ਹੇਚਿ ਨ ਦਾਨੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
mam sar mūi ajrāīl giraphtah dil hecī na dānī. 1. rahāu.
من سرمو عزرائیل گرفته دل هیچی ندانی .۱.وقفه.
Azrael has grabbed the tips of my hair, O mind, you know nothing. 1. Pause-Reflect.
ਜਨ ਪਿਸਰ ਪਦਰ ਬਿਰਾਦਰਾਂ ਕਸ ਨੇਸ ਦਸਤੰਗੀਰ ॥
jan pisar padar birādarāṁ kas nes dastaṅgīr.
زن پسر پدر برادران کس نیست دستگیر.
Wife, son, father, brothers, no one is an aide (can provide relief).
ਆਖਿਰ ਬਿਅਫਤਮ ਕਸ ਨ ਦਾਰਦ ਚੂੰ ਸਵਦ ਤਕਬੀਰ ॥੨॥
ākhir biaphtam kas na dārad chūṁ savad takbīr. 2.
اخر بیفتم کس ندارد چون سواد تکبیر. ۲.
I will fall at last, and when it comes time for the recitation of Takbīr, no one will have literacy of it. 2.
ਸਬ ਰੋਜ ਗਸਤਮ ਦਰ ਹਵਾ ਕਰਦੇਮ ਬਦੀ ਖਿਆਲ ॥
sab roj gastam dar havā kardem badī khiāl.
شب روز گشتم در هوا کرده ام بدی خیال.
Night and day I roamed, thinking negative thoughts in the air.
ਗਾਹੇ ਨ ਨੇਕੀ ਕਾਰ ਕਰਦਮ ਮਮ ਈਂ ਚਿਨੀ ਅਹਵਾਲ ॥੩॥
gāhe na nekī kār kardam mam īṁ cinī ahvāl. 3.
گاهی نه نکی کار کردم من این چنین احوال . ۳.
Sometimes I did impious things, that is my condition. 3.
ਬਦਬਖਤ ਹਮ ਚੁ ਬਖੀਲ ਗਾਫਿਲ ਬੇਨਜਰ ਬੇਬਾਕ ||
badbakht ham cu bakhīl gāphil benajar bebāk.
بدبخت هم چون بخیل غافل بی نظر بی باک .
Wretched too, because [I] am cheap, unaware, disinterested, and fearless.
ਨਾਨਕ ਬੁਗੋਯਦ ਜਨੁ ਤੁਰਾ ਤੇਰੇ ਚਾਕਰਾਂ ਪਾ ਖਾਕ ॥੪॥੧॥
nānak bugoyad janu turā tere cakarāṁ pā khāk. 4. 1.
نانک بگوید جنو تورا تره چاکران پا خاک . ۴.۱.
Nanak will say I am Your votary, the dust of the feet of Your slaves. 4. 1.
Guru Nanak Sahib in Rag Tilang | Guru Granth Sahib 721
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 and South Asian vernacular speech 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 (Wisdom) 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. Persian as written in Gurmukhi script and Perso-Arabic script often entails different spellings and pronunciations of words with the same meaning, and as such the Persian transcription is written with spellings that allow a modern-day Persian reader to understand the text.
In the first line, the word araj is the Gurmukhi spelling of the word arz ((عرض in Persian. Arz is more than a prayer, it is a supplication by which an individual petitions a higher power for a transformation.
This Sabad grounds itself in Persian and Islamic religious references. Haq (حق) is the Arabic word for Truth, with the additional connotation of what is right or legitimate. Haqā (حقا) meaning rightfully, or justly, describes this legitimacy. Kabīr (کبیر) or great, is one of the 99 attributes of Allah in Islam, and the phrase haqā kabīr is used several times in the Guru Granth Sahib to refer to the Creator (Vahiguru). Parvārdagar (پروردگار) or Cherisher is used primarily in Sufism as a term for the Divine. Parvar (پرور) is the root for “cherish” and dagar is related to the modern word digar (دگار) meaning another or again, as such Parvārdagar literally means “One who cherishes again and again.” Ajrāīl refers to the Abrahamic angel responsible for transporting souls upon their death. “Azrael” (عزرائیل) is the Old Hebrew name, and he is referred to as Malak al-Mawt in the Quran.
The line depicting Azrael contains the central message of this Sabad, indicated by the “rahāu” or pause at the end. This line provides the central image for the reader, reminding us of our limits as perishable beings. Our minds cannot anticipate when we will leave this world. In Sikh thought, this requires us to be in constant remembrance of the Divine, for we cannot take anything but our connection with the Divine with us upon our deaths, including our connections to our spouses, siblings, children, and parents. Our manifestation as individuals is fleeting, but our manifestation as part of the Creator is permanent. However, we should not forsake our human connections. Being one with our loved ones in this life is a pathway to connect with the Divine.
Love allows us to see the interconnectedness of all beings and Creation, revealing to us the ultimate Truth, the selves we perceive are the infinite manifestations of the Creator. Creator and Creation are one and the same. According to the janamsakhis (birth stories), which are the hagiographical compositions that depict Guru Nanak Sahib’s life, this Sabad was revealed while the Guru was in Mecca, and therefore the Islamic context flows naturally. By using powerful imagery of death as imagined in the Islamic context, Guru Nanak Sahib was able to more clearly be seen and understood by his audience, considering the overlap in vocabulary between Arabic and Persian, and the dominance of Persian among Muslim rulers of Central and South Asia at the time, who would engage with the Sabad.
The last Takbīr (تکبیر), (the word for recitation of the phrase Allahu Akbar or “God is Great”) refers to the last recitation of Takbīr in the Islamic funeral prayer Salat al-Janazah. The word savād (سواد) in Persian means ability to read, literacy, or to copy. Depicted here is a scenario in which the narrator has died, but there is no one around them who has a true spiritual grasp of death. Praising Allah will be an empty ceremony. Guru Nanak Sahib often reminded his audiences that religion is more than memorizing particular words and prayers, and that to invoke the Creator one must actively live out the core principles in religious texts. This line implies that though many have the Islamic funeral prayer memorized, there is no one around who has true literacy or understanding of the words they recite. They have not come to know the nature of the relationship between the worshipper and the Divine.
The Guru says badbakht ham (بدبخت هم), telling us that the narrative voice is also (هم) miserable (badbakht, بدبخت ), cu or choon (چون, Persian for since, because, or when) they are cheap (bakhīl, بخیل), unaware (gāphil, (غافل, disinterested (benajar or binazar in modern Persian, بی نظر), and fearless (bebāk or bibāk in modern Persian, بی باک). In the Sikh paradigm, the Divine lives within us and all things, but the choices we make determine how able we are to access IkOankar (1-Ness). Guru Nanak Sahib is invoking the notion found within the Islamic context that fear and reverence are similar phenomena. In the Sikh paradigm, fear is not the recommended relationship one needs to have with the Creator, therefore this notion of fearlessness is better represented for our purposes in English as “irreverence.” When we act “fearless” (irreverent), we turn our backs on the Divine and invest in our ego. By not sharing with others, not actively reflecting on the Creator, turning away, and having the ego to attempt to separate ourselves from the Oneness of all things, we bring ourselves into an unnatural state, and the conflict that emerges makes us miserable.
- The transcription of the Mūl Mantra (the first line of the Guru Granth Sahib, often found at the opening of Sabad) into Perso-Arabic script is based on the widely accepted Shahmukhi (Panjabi written in Perso-Arabic script) transcriptions.
- Your votary
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.