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This shabad has been sung at least once a day at the Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar for over 400 years. 

The first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak, had an excellent musician named Mardana who accompanied him in singing sacred compositions for many years. After Mardana's passing, two talented young musicians, Balwand and Satta, became prominent in the Guru's court. They served Guru Nanak, followed by Guru Angad (the second Guru), Guru Amar Das (the third), Guru Ram Das (the fourth), and finally Guru Arjan (the fifth Guru). 

As per the tradition, when visitors came to Guru’s court they would make an offering to him. They also offered something to the musicians, depending on how well they played and enhanced the meditative experience for those present. In this way, the musicians received rewards for their efforts.

Origins of misunderstanding against Guru 

It so happened that Satta's granddaughter wanted to get married, but the family needed a large sum of money to pay for the wedding arrangements. So, Balwand and Satta approached Guru Arjan and requested money to fund the wedding expenses. Guru Arjan had recently become the Guru. During the transition from Guru Ram Das to Guru Arjan, there was a period of confusion and intrigue involving Guru Ram Das's elder brother, Priti Chand, who thought he should have been crowned as the Guru instead. Due to this confusion, fewer visitors were coming to see Guru Arjan at that time.

When Balwand and Satta asked Guru Arjan for the wedding money, there were limited funds available. The Guru gave the musicians what he could, but the musicians felt it was not enough. They became reactive and angry. They entered a spiritual stage called "Shakti Pad" – a time of tumultuous challenge to their highest commitments and confronting their egos.

The musicians started thinking that they were the reason people came to the Guru's court – that they were more important than the Guru himself. They decided to no longer play music in the Guru's court. The next day, Guru Arjan sent word requesting the musicians to come and perform, but they refused. The Guru then sent some of his most revered Sikhs to request their return, but the musicians still would not come. 

Finally, Guru Arjan himself went to speak with them, but even then, they did not change their minds. The musicians began to criticise and belittle the Gurus they had served. Guru Arjan said he had no issue listening to criticism about himself, but he could not tolerate disrespect towards his Guru, Guru Ram Das, and by extension, Guru Nanak. Finally, Guru Arjan declared that the musicians were no longer welcome in the Guru’s court. He warned that anyone who suggested otherwise would have their face blackened with coal and be paraded through the town, facing backwards on a donkey.

The transition in Sikhi music 

For years, outside musicians had provided the musical accompaniment during the Guru's court. As these musicians developed a sense of pride in their skills, tensions arose between them and the Guru himself. Seeing this, Guru Arjan realized the need for the Sikh community itself to learn and cultivate musical knowledge.

He initiated the practice of having Sikhs learn the musical scales and participate in singing the compositions of the Gurus. Rather than relying on professional musicians, Guru Arjan instructed his Sikhs to take up this spiritual practice themselves. He taught that mental concentration and devotion were prerequisites for learning the sacred musical tradition.

Guru Arjan outlined the qualities that every participating musician should possess. This included a detachment from material possessions and the negativity of the ego. The musician must be immersed in the honourable thought of the Sikhs' spiritual path itself. The Guru further emphasized the importance of patience and humility when engaged in the spiritual journey.

Balwand and Satta’s journey back to Guru’s court 

Normalcy returned to the Guru's court, and more visitors arrived to receive the Guru's divine blessings. Satta's granddaughter, whose wedding had sparked the initial dispute, realized her grandfather and Balwand had made a mistake by leaving the Guru's presence. She encouraged them to reconsider their actions and not turn their backs on the Guru's teachings.

Slowly, Balwand and Satta also had a change of heart, realizing this was a test of their spiritual commitment. This realization led to a spiritual awakening within them. Inspired by their renewed desire to be in the Guru's company, they composed a beautiful suite of spiritual songs titled "Balwand di Var," honouring the five Gurus they had served, including the shabad " Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur."

However, they still faced the issue of being barred from Guru Arjan's court. To resolve this, they sought help from a wise Sikh in Lahore known for his compassion. This Sikh demonstrated extreme humility by blackening his own face and riding a donkey backwards through town to meet the Guru. Witnessing such humility, Guru Arjan granted Balwand and Satta permission to return to his presence.

When Balwand and Satta returned to the Guru, they performed a new composition praising the five gurus they had served. Guru Arjan was deeply moved by their spiritual transformation and the beauty of their composition. He warmly welcomed them back into his court. The composition was so uplifting that Guru Arjan decided it should be included in the Adi Granth, a large collection he was compiling to capture the best spiritual expressions of that time from various traditions.

This was the first time a composition by individuals not universally recognized as saints or sages was included. Although Balwand and Satta came from humble backgrounds and were not considered divine, their profound personal transformation made their work worthy of inclusion in what would later be known as the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru of all Sikhs.
 

ਧੰਨੁ ਧੰਨੁ ਰਾਮਦਾਸ ਗੁਰੁ ਜਿਨਿ ਸਿਰਿਆ ਤਿਨੈ ਸਵਾਰਿਆ ॥

Blessed, blessed is Guru Raam Daas; He who created You, has also exalted You.

ਪੂਰੀ ਹੋਈ ਕਰਾਮਾਤਿ ਆਪਿ ਸਿਰਜਣਹਾਰੈ ਧਾਰਿਆ ॥

Perfect is Your miracle; the Creator Lord Himself has installed You on the throne.

ਸਿਖੀ ਅਤੈ ਸੰਗਤੀ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ਕਰਿ ਨਮਸਕਾਰਿਆ ॥

The Sikhs and all the Congregation recognize You as the Supreme Lord God, and bow down to You.

ਅਟਲੁ ਅਥਾਹੁ ਅਤੋਲੁ ਤੂ ਤੇਰਾ ਅੰਤੁ ਨ ਪਾਰਾਵਾਰਿਆ ॥

You are unchanging, unfathomable and immeasurable; You have no end or limitation.

ਜਿਨ੍‍ੀ ਤੂੰ ਸੇਵਿਆ ਭਾਉ ਕਰਿ ਸੇ ਤੁਧੁ ਪਾਰਿ ਉਤਾਰਿਆ ॥

Those who serve You with love - You carry them across.

ਲਬੁ ਲੋਭੁ ਕਾਮੁ ਕ੍ਰੋਧੁ ਮੋਹੁ ਮਾਰਿ ਕਢੇ ਤੁਧੁ ਸਪਰਵਾਰਿਆ ॥

Greed, envy, sexual desire, anger and emotional attachment - You have beaten them and driven them out.

ਧੰਨੁ ਸੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਥਾਨੁ ਹੈ ਸਚੁ ਤੇਰਾ ਪੈਸਕਾਰਿਆ ॥

Blessed is Your place, and True is Your magnificent glory.

ਨਾਨਕੁ ਤੂ ਲਹਣਾ ਤੂਹੈ ਗੁਰੁ ਅਮਰੁ ਤੂ ਵੀਚਾਰਿਆ ॥

You are Nanak, You are Angad, and You are Amar Daas; so do I recognize You.

ਗੁਰੁ ਡਿਠਾ ਤਾਂ ਮਨੁ ਸਾਧਾਰਿਆ ॥7॥

When I saw the Guru, then my mind was comforted and consoled. ||7||

This shabad has been sung at least once a day at the Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar for over 400 years. It has become a common mantra for people in and around the Harimandir Sahib, often heard on their lips daily. Many stories tell of how reciting this shabad has brought miraculous help to difficult personal situations. Thanks to the teachings of Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan, thousands of people around the world now experience the blessings of Guru Ram Das through the power of the Naad in this shabad and its prayerful intention. On the anniversary of Guru Ram Das's birth, Sikh Dharma International shares the history of this shabad,  and hopes that readers gain insight and inspiration. May the reciting of this shabad bring all the blessings of Guru Ram Das into our lives..

 

*Based on an article by Pritpal Singh Khalsa, published in sikhandseekers.org on 9th October 2014

 

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