Wake Up – Harinder Singh - Sikh Research Institute

Wake Up – Harinder Singh

In Asa rag (musical measure), Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of Sikhi, proclaims:

Wake up, wake up, O’ Sleepers!

The traveler-trader is leaving.

- Guru Granth Sahib 418

In the aforesaid line, the actual word in Gurmukhi script from the old Panjabi language is Jaghu (ਜਾਗਹੁ), which in contemporary Panjabi is Jago (ਜਾਗੋ). It means wake up. The Guru Granth Sahib is the Sikh charter which is classically presented as scripture but it is more of an anthology of love-songs exalted to the status of Perfect Wisdom.

Five hundred and fifty years ago, a new lamp was lit in the Panjab. That illumination introduced a new culture of Nam – Identifying with the Force. That Nam-culture was borne out of Ik Oankar, the Oneness that transcends gender or race. Guru Nanak Sahib shined liked the Sun and roared like the Lion:

The Perfect One from the Panjab,

One World-Wisdom via the Rabab:

Revealed Creator-Creation eternally,

Enjoyed Rule-Union incessantly,

Graced meek-mighty endlessly,

Lived political-spiritual actively,

Embodied Light-Love infinitely.


Guru Nanak Sahib is the light that awakened the world, the light infused with love.  Allama Iqbal sings in the praise of Guru Nanak Sahib in Bang-i-Dara:

Again, the voice of Oneness has arisen from the Panjab;

A perfect man has awakened India from her daydreaming.

Jago the awakening enters the culture where it intermixes the five dimensions of the classical, the folk, the spiritual, the musical and the poetics of the Panjab in South Asia. The Sabad – the Infinite Wisdom – centers of the dialogue between the Being and a being, the Beloved and the lover through mystical flights.

The most popular form of Jago is during the Panjabi wedding. The night before the wedding, female relatives of the bridegroom used to prepare a 'Jago'. Gagar, clay pot, used to resemble a Panjabi home’s balcony which was lit with lamps made from wheat flour dough, filled with oil, cotton wick lighted to bring heavenly stars home. Twinkling gagar on the head of the groom's mothers' brothers' wife, singing, dancing, frolicking, knocking on the doors of the groom's village residents, to accept presents of primarily raw material for food. They would continue the rounds through the night. This symbolically celebrates the “bride” is of the village and the whole village is preparing for the groom’s party. It always took a village to raise the child, and to assure the nuptials were arranged properly. She-child is so precious, the life-line for next life.

The Pind to Shahir, village to city, mobility brought its own modern tones in Jago.  Malkit Singh, the king of Bhangra from UK made Jago popular, and Jatinder Kaur brought back the folk into contemporary times. A popular Panjabi song ‘Tell Me’ (das ja) invokes Jago as follows:

For the past three days, you've been at your mother’s family home.

You bring so much life to the wedding home.

In our village the moon hasn't even come out,

After seeing your face.

Last night at Jago when you twirled your ghaghra (long skirt),

The whole village was stunned after seeing you.

That's why we repeat your name,

Seeing you everyone else will be left behind.


Jago, like Jugni (feminine voice of guided spirit in Panjabi folklore in the last 100 years), travels through centuries in Panjabi-Sikh psyche in myriad ways. The celebratory excitement of weddings enters the political consciousness too. The catchword confronts the fear of death. Then, the chorus produces deadly effect to exhort the mortal beings to become immortal revolutionaries. The symbolism of awareness and wedding enters the new phase: marrying the death to achieve freedom for fellow human beings, to remove the shackles of political slavery, to become ultimate witness to the Truth. There, the Jago invokes: for the self-aware, your death has come, embrace it; to the perpetrator, I’m here to relieve you, accept it!

Now a days, a Jago celebration weaves the groom and the bride families with the party fanfare a day or two before the wedding. The songs are still sung, a gagar is procured, and the lamps are still lit albeit artificially, but I wonder if we are listening to this line inviting us to participate amidst loud music and sexualized dancing: “O’ Neighbors, are you awake or asleep!”

Are YOU as excited as the night before the wedding?

Let the #Nanakshahi550 be that “wake-up call”!

To all the 130 million Panjabis (East, West, and the Diaspora):

Save Panjab. Let’s start with its water, the life-source!


To all the 30 million Sikhs globally:

Invoke Sabad. Let’s start with Ik Oankar, the One Force!


To all who self-identify with any element of Sikhi and Panjab:

Visit Panjab or any place connected with Guru Nanak Sahib, from Saudi Arabia to Sri Lanka!


In this Mela-festivities, may the Phulkari of beautiful tapestry move the beings to water the garden. Wake-up, don’t just trade.

Nurture the self.

Nurture the surrounding!





Harinder Singh is a thinker, author, and educator. He is the co-founder of the Sikh Research Institute and the Panjab Digital Library. He tweets at @1Force.

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