Kids Corner


Come, O Sisters,
Let Us Sing Songs Of Our Beloved:
Letter & Spirit # 53






We have read earlier that Guru Nanak prayed, “Bless me with the insight that I may sing your glorious praises” [GGS:795.5]. But we skipped discussing it at that time.

The word ‘sing’ occurs over 30 times in Japji alone. Guru Nanak stresses that we must not only contemplate, but sing Waheguru’s (God’s) praises. Singing of gurbani is thus our roots.

We have been including links to the kirtan (singing of gurbani) in proper raags (melodic modes) but very few readers have listened to them. Perhaps we suffer from exposure fatigue.

Bhai Gurdas writes that when Guru Nanak came into this world, each household became a gurdwara where blissful kirtan was heard everyday. [Vaar 1.27.6]

Modern Sikh families may not be aware of this, all Sikhs are supposed to learn how to sing, as well as how to properly listen to gurbani. But we now prefer to be famous as people who do gatka.

Even though most of us only listen to recorded kirtan, gurbani says that a Sikh starts each day with personally singing the gurbani. [GGS:305.18]

Amongst all species, only humans have the faculty to laugh, cry ... and sing. All these play a role in praising God or doing naam simran … but singing takes precedence.

What is the purpose of singing gurbani, and why should we sing Waheguru’s praises?

To answer these questions we need to remember that we are extremely minuscule and insignificant particles in the universe. The purpose of our life includes the big picture, with an entity that is immensely greater than us humans. As humans we attempt to decipher the process through education and science. But the purpose will always elude a scientist, because that field of study is entirely different than science. That study is subjective and it lies outside the realm of human intellect and physical observation.

We would not try to measure temperature with a hammer! Similarly, the tools to grasp the purpose of existence are totally different than the tools to analyze the process of existence.

 *   *   *   *   *

Gurbani says that Waheguru is like the ocean, an ocean of love, to be exact. And we are like the fish in this ocean. We are always in this ocean but we are not aware of it. We are dry inside.

We cannot measure, nor can we understand the ocean, but we can be conscious of being in it, touch it, and swim in it. When we do so, then we can become soaked wet inside.

God’s Will is no different than His love for us. Guru Nanak calls it ‘hukam’ or command because it controls everything there is. Hukam, naam, and God’s intent, they are all the same.

Realizing God’s love or the hukam is the one virtue (‘gu-n’ in gurbani) that we need to acquire. This is our purpose. Other virtues only prepare our vessel to receive this virtue.

The Guru is the bridge between the invisible and visible, between God and us. Guru’s hukam is God’s command expressed in the form that we can understand.

Guru intends to transform us, to make us bhagats so that we can meet God. When the Sikh obeys Guru’s hukam, then, if it pleases Waheguru, the Guru plants the seed of bhakti (God’s love) in that Sikh’s heart.

There are three components to the Hukam or God’s Will. Gurbani says that we need to follow all three: obey the hukam, grasp the hukam, and live in the hukam.

The grasp of hukam, or tasting Waheguru’s love is like a marriage. Both sides need to agree. Analysis, meditation, or samadhi fail to accomplish this because all these acts arise from the ego.

Hukam cannot be grasped in presence of the ego or haumai. Its grasp occurs when the Guru soaks us with the virtue. It pours into our goblet from the carafe of the Guru’s heart, out of the Guru’s pure and selfless love for the Sikh.

This is called ‘kirpa’ in gurbani, or ‘gurparsad’, meaning Guru’s mercy.

God is pleased with those who obey the Guru’s hukam. When Waheguru embraces us then our haumai is dissolved. This may take a million lifetimes. Time is of no consequence as long as we can stay prostrated at His door and stake no claims.

Just as we cannot taste, measure, or describe a mother’s love, detailed essays will fail to do so. A poet can be better at describing it. But a singer can go much farther.

The spirit of a song can soar on the wings of music and touch our soul. For this reason, the Guru commands us to sing and listen with devotion enshrined in our heart [GGS:2.8].

While the world burns in fire, singing of gurbani as per the Guru’s instruction removes the distance between us and God. This water extinguishes the fire in us. The resulting transformation truly heals the entire world.

We read in the janamsaakhi about a man called ‘Sajjan’ (literally, amigo). He offered free food and shelter to unsuspecting travellers, but he robbed them at night while they slept.

Sajjan sat and waited for Guru Nanak to also fall asleep. Guru Nanak knew this, but he did not deliver any teaching, nor gave a lecture on ethics and morality.

He sang a shabad.

Hearing the shabad, Sajjan was a changed man. He repented, and became Guru Nanak’s Sikh.

Singing of gurbani takes us directly to the origin of gurbani. Listening to gurbani can turn men into angels within the blink of an eye. If this does not happen to us, we need to figure out why.

Perhaps it’s because we did not know how to sing and how to listen to the shabad.

*   *   *   *   *

Gurbani teaches us to be like an innocent child or a penniless destitute in the Guru’s presence. Waheguru in gurbani is often addressed as “gareeb niwaaz” or someone who honors the poor and destitute.

Similarly, singing of gurbani is fruitful when we sing it as a child or as an ignorant fool sitting at the Guru’s feet. When we do so then, myriads of our errors gradually become visible to us.

We will continue to make countless mistakes. But when we take God’s sanctuary, he will continue to forgive us. Gurbani says that God is obligated to do so.

Guru Nanak has also said that God has no avarice, not even as small as the size of a sesame seed, or a desire to have us praise Him, beg Him or to be His slaves. [GGS:5.11]

But, day and night, God longs for the seeker to come home. The Guru endures this pain of separation from the Sikh, but we are ignorant and merciless [GGS:745.3] and we do not care.

It pleases Waheguru when a living being returns to Him. Guru Nanak calls this pleasure a ‘russ’ (nectar), a ‘rung’ (color) or ‘har russ’ (Divine nectar). He even calls it an intoxicating elixir.

This nectar secretly resides everywhere, and in everything. How can we taste this nectar?

*   *   *   *   *

Guru Nanak did not leave the Sikh as an orphan, but most Sikhs wander around as orphans.

Teachers of other paths left their followers to fend for themselves, to invent various theories, practices and theologies. But the Guru Sahiban placed us in the lap of gurbani. They instructed us to savor gurbani, the food for our soul, with kirtan in sadh sangat (association with illuminated souls). Then we can taste the nectar of God’s love.

The divine love that we find in sadh sangat rubs off on us and it continues to transform us. When we sing kirtan from the heart, the essence of gurbani enters our heart and dwells there.

But when we turn the kirtan into a ritual or a show, a gurmukh cannot enjoy it. Various famous singers come and lecture us, even cry when they sing, but for a fee.

We now prefer ordinary tunes instead of the raag prescribed for each shabad. We call ourselves the sadh sangat that is praised in gurbani, when in fact we simply watched others recite or sing gurbani. That is like watching others spit food at us without swallowing it and calling it a feast!

Sorry, but this is not sadh sangat!

Gurbani says that preoccupation with music detracts from Waheguru’s hukam. But most professional Sikh singers are more interested in the raag and the taal (beat) than the words.

At the same time, they appear to forget that the spirit of gurbani is expressed in gentle, melodious and soulful music. Sometimes I wonder if the Sikh singers could polish their singing and adjust their music with the help of some good music directors, and benefit from observing the world-class singing voices like Jagjit Singh or Ustad Rashid Khan.

Each shabad is complete by itself. But we introduce strange practices, head bobbing, thrusting, interrupting the kirtan with frequent and frantic breathless repetition of the gurmantar, shouting, bleating, beating the poor tabla (the percussion drums) to death … and what not!

Some even introduce dancing, clapping, pop music and trendy tunes. Certain segments of society are very much attracted to all of the above, but this is not kirtan … Sorry!

The aim of kirtan is to uplift us to the state of bhakti and sehaj. This cannot occur if we do not sit calmly, listen intently, and sing melodiously, preferably in the melody that was intended for that shabad. Most of gurbani kirtan is meant to be calm, harmonious, and melodious. The sangat should also join in the singing, no doubt.

Body language is extremely important. Try listening to a sad song while chewing gum. It will not make us sad. Rhythmic motion to a beat or alkalosis from hyperventilation can cause a sense of exaltation. But mistaking it as a spiritual bliss, we miss the spirit of gurbani.

We have thus, in various ways, turned ourselves into orphans. Then we proudly assert that Guru Nanak admonished to the Hindus that their rituals were not yoga!

*   *   *   *   *

Words of gurbani are God’s own words. Singing these words places us directly in His presence. Then, if it pleases Waheguru, He embraces us and purifies us even though we are not worthy. He makes us worthy.

We cannot take bath in a bucket. A pond may be adequate but the water is muddy. Guru Nanak undertook the monumental task of creating an ocean, an ocean of gurbani for us, with profuse repetitions of the same statements, over and over, in various ways and in various melodies.

We can swim in it as we please. We can sing or listen to the shabad and the melody that resonates with our heart, our mood, and our understanding.

The nectar is the same on each page.

But we cannot fully taste the nectar from gurbani without singing it, without swimming in this ocean ourselves. Let us do so gently so that we do not lose its essence and its fragrance.

*   *   *   *   *

Here is the shabad that we have discussed above:

O God, O treasure of mercy
Please bless us so that we will
Sing the glorious praises of the Lord

Each day I place my hopes in you O Lord!
When will you take me in your embrace?

We  are foolish, ignorant children; our Father will teach us
Child makes mistakes at each moment, but you
O Father of the universe, will still be pleased with us

Whatever you give us O Lord Master
Only that will we accept
There is no other place for me, where we can go

Those bhagats who are pleasing to the Lord
The Lord becomes pleasing to them
The light merges into the Light and blends together

The Lord himself bestows His mercy
He himself lovingly connects us with Him
Servant Nanak remains at the door of the Lord
The Lord will protect our honor

[Guru Ram Das, Raag Kalyan, GGS:1321]

*   *   *   *   *

Principal Sukhwant Singh, among others, appears to be doing a wonderful job at teaching world-class singing of gurmat sangeet (Guru’s intended style of singing) to the children. I find some children fascinating. Their pure and innocent heart excels many grown-up Sikh singers. Physically impaired singers are often better than others, for similar reasons.

Here is a LINK to this shabad in Raag Kalyan.

To be continued ...

August 11, 2015

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Let Us Sing Songs Of Our Beloved:
Letter & Spirit # 53"

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