Significance of Aasa Di Vaar (Ode)

It is said that Bhai Lehna (later, Guru Angad Dev) was the first to sing it in the presence of Guru Nanak Dev.

Aasa Di Vaar is the most popular of all the vaars incorporated in Sri Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Arjan Dev. It is the masterpiece of Guru Nanak and is sung by musicians at Sikh congregations during the early morning service.

Its Origin

Bhai Mani Singh, a famous Sikh writer, has written in 'Gian Ratnawli' that Guru Nanak Dev composed this ode at the request of a Muslim saint, Sheikh Brahm, when he met Guru Nanak and was impressed by the Guru's views. It is said that Bhai Lehna (later, Guru Angad Dev) was the first to sing it in the presence of Guru Nanak Dev.

Its Structure

It is an ode (Vaar) in the musical measure Aasa. Like all vars, Aasa Di Vaar originally consisted of only Pauris (stanzas). It had 24 Pauris composed by Guru Nanak Dev. Guru Arjan Dev, while entering it in SGGS at page 462, added 44 Saloks of Guru Nanak Dev and 15 of Guru Angad Dev. Seventeen Pauris have two Saloks each, while others have more than two. Pauris 21, 22 and 23 have no Salok of Guru Nanak Dev. It proves that Saloks were added afterward. At the time of recitation, Ragees (religious musicians) prefix each of the Pauris by a sextette (Chhand) known as Chhakkas composed by Guru Ram Daas. They will also punctuate the singing by some illustrative hymns.

Its Theme

In those days odes were composed to praise the brave soldiers or kings, but in this ode sentiment of tranquility and not that of heroism is supreme. Guru Nanak Dev composed this vaar to praise the Lord. The first line of the first Pauri given below will prove it:

[email protected] Awpu swijE [email protected] ricE nwau ]
duXI kudriq swjIAY kir Awsxu ifTo cwau ]
( SGGS:463)
"He Himself created Himself; He Himself assumed His Name. Secondly, He fashioned the creation; seated within the creation, He beholds it with delight."

As regards Pauris, the theme deals with theology and metaphysics. It is mostly a philosophic composition. Its central point is the state of human being, and how he can liberate himself /herself from the bondage of self and unite with the Divine. God created human beings to worship Him, but they have forgotten Him. They can meet Him and mend themselves with His grace. Saloks contain social philosophy and deal with the moral decay that was prevalent-- hypocrisy and superstitions practiced under the name of religion. The ills of contemporary life are sharply mentioned. Some lines allude to the moral decay that had set in the society. Subject matter of this ode can be divided into the following three parts: Social, Religious, and Political.

Social Conditions: In this Vaar, Guru Nanak has amply described the social condition of his time. In the following quotes, Guru Nanak has mentioned that society in those days lacked knowledge , people were aping civilization and language of their foreign masters, learned and haughty Brahmans were exploiting the illiterate people and women were stigmatized and hated. Social evils like ego and notion of impurity have been described and condemned:

AMDI rXiq igAwn ivhUxI Bwih Bry murdwru ] (SGGS:469)
"Their subjects are blind, and without wisdom, they satisfy the official's fire of greed with bribe ( carrion)."
with bribe (carrion).
nIl vsqR pihir hovih prvwxu ]
mlyC Dwnu ly pUjih purwxu ]
(SGGS:472)
'Wearing blue robes, they seek the approval of the Muslim rulers. Accepting bread from the Muslims, they still worship the Puraanas.'
BMif jMmIAY BMif inMmIAY BMif mMgxu vIAwhu ]
BMfhu hovY dosqI BMfhu clY rwhu ]
BMfu muAw BMfu BwlIAY BMif hovY bMDwnu ]
so ikau mMdw AwKIAY ijqu jMmih rwjwn ]
(SGGS:473)
"From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born."
hau ivic AwieAw hau ivic gieAw ]
hau ivic jMimAw hau ivic muAw ]
(SGGS:466)
"In ego man comes, and in ego he departs. In ego he is born, and in ego he dies."
haumY bUJY qw dru sUJY ]igAwn ivhUxw kiQ kiQ lUJY ]( SGGS:466)
"When one understands ego, then the Lord's gate is known. Without spiritual wisdom, he argues and gets angry."

In three Salokas printed before Pauri nineteenth on Page 472 of SGGS, Guru Nanak has scientifically and logically condemned the prevailing custom of impurity (sUqk) and convinces the readers that it is a futile practice and tells how to remove it. He writes:

jy kir sUqku mMnIAY sB qY sUqku hoie ]
gohy AqY lkVI AMdir kIVw hoie ]

"If one accepts the concept of impurity, then there is impurity everywhere. In cow-dung and wood there are worms."
nwnk sUqku eyv n auqrY igAwnu auqwry Doie ]
"O Nanak, impurity cannot be removed in this way; it is washed away only by spiritual wisdom."

He also shows us real impurity:

mn kw sUqku loBu hY ijhvw sUqku kUVu ]
"The impurity of the mind is greed, and the impurity of the tongue is falsehood. The impurity of the eyes is to gaze upon the beauty of another man's wife, and his wealth. The impurity of the ears is to listen to the slander of others."
sBo sUqku Brmu hY dUjY lgY jwie ]
"All impurity comes from doubt and attachment to duality."

Religious Conditions: Guru Nanak has depicted the deteriorating religious condition of his period beautifully. In the following quotes, Guru Nanak has explained that religious guides were greedy butchers who were exploiting their ignorant followers, and superstitions and hypocrisy were order of the day. Caste system and the notion of impurity were given great importance:

BY ivic pvxu vhY sdvwau ]BY ivic clih lK drIAwau ](SGGS:464)
"In the Fear (order)of God, the wind and breezes ever blow. In the Fear of God, thousands of rivers flow."
dieAw kpwh sMqoKu sUqu jqu gMFI squ vtu ]
eyhu jnyaU jIA kw heI q pwfy Gqu ] (SGGS:471)
"Make compassion the cotton, contentment the thread, modesty the knot and truth the twist. This is the sacred thread of the soul; if you have it, then go ahead and put it on me.
mwxs Kwxy krih invwj ] CurI vgwiein iqn gil qwg ] (SGGS:471)
"The man-eaters say their prayers. Those who wield the knife wear the sacred thread around their necks".
mqu iBtY vy mqu iBtY ] iehu AMnu Aswfw iPtY ]
qin iPtY PyV kryin ] min jUTY culI Bryin ]
(SGG:472)
"They cry out, "Do not touch our food, or it will be polluted!" But with their polluted bodies, they commit evil deeds. With filthy minds, they try to cleanse their throats".

Political Conditions: Kings and their ministers were corrupt and greedy. People had no rights. Hindu officers were trying to please their Muslim masters who were dictators:

lbu pwpu duie rwjw mhqw kUVu hoAw iskdwru ]
kwmu nybu sid puCIAY bih bih kry bIcwru ]
(Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:468)
"Greed and sin are the King and Prime Minister; falsehood is the treasurer. Sexual desire, the chief adviser, is summoned and consulted; they all sit together and contemplate their plans".
nIl bsqR ly kpVy pihry qurk pTwxI Amlu kIAw ] (SGGS:470)
"Men began to wear blue robes and garments; Turks and Pat'haans assumed power."

Warnings and Pieces of Advice:

Through this ode, Guru Nanak Dev has given us many pieces of advice and warned us in simple, but touching words to mend our ways. These apply to our daily life:

bhu ByK kIAw dyhI duKu dIAw ] (SGGS:467)
"The more he wears religious robes, the more pain he causes his body."
AMnu n KwieAw swdu gvwieAw ] (SGGS:467)
"One who does not eat the corn, loses the relish of life."
rhY bybwxI mVI mswxI ]AMDu n jwxY iPir pCuqwxI ] (SGGS:467)
"One who lives in the wilderness, in cemeteries and cremation grounds - that blind man does not know the Lord; he regrets and repents in the end."
Alu mlu KweI isir CweI pweI ]mUriK AMDY piq gvweI ]
"The blind fool who eats filth and throws ashes on his head loses his honor."
nwnk scy nwm ibnu ikAw itkw ikAw qgu ] (SGGS:467)
"O Nanak, without the True Name, of what use is the frontal mark of the Hindus, or their sacred thread?"
AgY jwiq n joru hY AgY jIau nvy ] (SGGS:469)
"In the world hereafter, caste and power mean nothing; hereafter, the mortal has to deal with new beings."
nwnk iPkY boilAY qnu mnu iPkw hoie ] ( SGGS:473)
"O Nanak, by speaking insipid words, the body and mind become dry(evil.)
jw rhxw nwhI AYqu jig qw kwiequ gwrib hMFIAY ] ( SGGS:473)
"Since one is not destined to remain in this world anyway, why should one ruin oneself in pride?"
mUrKY nwil n luJIAY ] ( SGGS:473) "Don't argue with fools. "
scu qw pru jwxIAY jw irdY scw hoie ]
( SGGS:468)
"One knows the Truth only when the Truth is in his heart."
Dir qwrwjU qolIAY invY su gaurw hoie ] (SGGS:470)
"When something is placed on the balancing scale and weighed, the side which descends is heavier."
sIis invwieAY ikAw QIAY jw irdY kusuDy jwih ] (SGGS:470)
"But what can be achieved by bowing the head, when the heart is impure?"
gaU ibrwhmx kau kru lwvhu gobir qrxu n jweI ](SGGS:471)
They tax the cows and the Brahmins, but the cow-dung they apply to their kitchen will not save them.
ATsiT qIrQ jy nwvih auqrY nwhI mYlu ] (SGGS:473)
Even though they may bathe at the sixty-eight sacred shrines of pilgrimage, still, their filth does not depart.

Language and Style

Language of this Vaar is simple and can be understood by the reader or listener easily. Metaphors and similes from our daily life have been used to beautify the language. These metaphors express a big idea in a few words and make the language of the ode attractive. In the next quote the world has been described as a small room of the Lord: iehu jgu scY kI hY koTVI scy kw ivic vwsu ] (SGGS:463) "This world is the room of the True Lord; within it is the dwelling of the True Lord." Guru Nanak has beautifully and briefly described the required qualities of cotton thread ( jnyaU ) in this quote: dieAw kpwh sMqoKu sUqu jqu gMFI squ vtu ] In the following quote, Guru Nanak has applied dramatic way to make fun of the so called religious leaders and makes us laugh:

vwiein cyly ncin gur ]pYr hlwiein [email protected] isr ]
auif auif rwvw JwtY pwie ]vyKY loku hsY Gir jwie ]
(SGGS:465)"
"The disciples play the music, and the gurus dance. They move their feet and roll their heads. The dust flies and falls upon their hair.
Beholding them, the people laugh, and then go home."Sincerity is another merit of this style. No scene has been exaggerated."

A Mine of Gems of Thoughts

In fact, this composition is a mine of gems of thought which are of rare beauty in expression. Many lines from this composition have become quotes as they contain wisdom of daily life. They appeal to everyone. Many universal truths have been mentioned in very simple words. Some examples are given below:

jyhw Gwly Gwlxw qyvyho nwau pcwrIAY ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:469)
"As are the deeds done, so is the reputation one acquires."
mMdw cMgw Awpxw Awpy hI kIqw pwvxw ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:470)
"One obtains the rewards of ones good and bad deeds".
Awpu gvwie syvw kry qw ikCu pwey mwnu ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:474)
"But if he eliminates his self-conceit and then performs service, he shall be honored."

The language is so simple and lovely that many sentences have become provers as given below:

sBnI Cwlw mwrIAw krqw kry su hoie ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:469)
"Everyone makes the attempt, but that alone happens which the Creator Lord does."
duKu dwrU suKu rogu BieAw jw suKu qwim n hoeI ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:469)
"Suffering is the medicine, and pleasure the disease, because where there is (spiritual)pleasure, there is no (suffering)."
imTqu nIvI nwnkw gux cMigAweIAw qqu ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:470)
"Humility is sweet, O Nanak, it is the essence of virtue and goodness."
jru AweI jobin hwirAw ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:472)
"But old age comes, and youth is lost".
jo AwieAw so clsI sBu koeI AweI vwrIAY ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:474)
"Whoever has come, shall depart; all shall have their turn"
Awpx hQI Awpxw Awpy hI kwju svwrIAY ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:474)
"With our own hands, let us resolve our own affairs."
scu qw pru jwxIAY jw irdY scw hoie ] (Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS:: 468)
One knows the Truth only when the Truth is in his heart.
AgY jwiq n joru hY AgY jIau nvy ] ( Guru Nanak Dev.SGGS: 469)
In the world hereafter, social status and power mean nothing; hereafter, the soul is new.

Conclusion:

We can safely say that Aasa Di Vaar is a most prominent and beloved ode in Sikh history and SGGS ji. It contains limitless knowledge and describes a very high standard of humanity. In fact, it is a complete code of conduct both for spiritual and worldly affairs. It also mentions social evils like hypocrisy, ego, superstitions and caste system and shows the way to get rid of them. It has raised a powerful voice to uplift women. It has been composed in the language of the people and describes the philosophy of life beautifully, so it is liked by the listeners and readers. I wish people should contemplate over its meanings, apply them to their lives and not treat it like a ritual.

Add a Comment