Asa di Var

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ballad of hope

ASA KI VAR, is the term recorded in the index to the Guru Granth Sahib but this Gurbani is commonly called "Asa di Var". It is found in the Sikh scripture from page 462 line 17 to page 475 line 10. It is a composition by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhi and is sung by kirtania (religious musicians) at Sikh congregations or gatherings as part of the early morning service. It is said that if recited and sung with true belief, then one's hopes/wishes are fulfilled.

The term "Asa di Var" comprises three words: The third word var means an ode or a lyrical verse; the word Asa which means "hope" in Punjabi) is also a Raag or musical measure used in the Guru Granth Sahib; and "ki" or "di" mean "of". Thus together the terms means "A ballad of hope". Raag Asa is the raga of pre-dawn hours and the custom of reciting the hymn at morning time is traced to the days of Guru Nanak himself.

It is said that Bhai Lahina (the later, Guru Angad) was the first to sing it in the presence of Guru Nanak. The Var then comprised twenty four pauris or stanzas by Guru Nanak and some slokas which were also of his composition as indicated in the title given it by Guru Arjan when entering the composition in the Holy Book (salok bhi mahalle pahile ke likhe), the slokas were also composed by the First Guru, Guru Nanak. In its present form, it carries twenty four stanzas with a total of fifty nine slokas, 45 by Guru Nanak and 14 by Guru Angad.

Recitation format

At the time of recitation, the choir will prefix each of the stanzas by a quatrain from the series by Guru Ram Das entered separately under Raga Asa, collectively known as "chakkas", or sextettes from the groups of six quatrains each counting as a unit. They will also punctuate the singing with illustrative hymns from Guru Granth Sahib and with passages from Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal whose compositions constitute approved texts.

According to the musical direction recorded by Guru Arjan at the beginning of the Var, it is meant to be recited in the tune of an old folk ballad which had as its hero a prince by the name of Asraja, called "Tunda Asraj" because of a maimed hand (tunda). From passage to passage, the Var touches upon several different themes, but one central point of emphasis is the state of man, and how he may liberate himself from the bondage of self and prepare himself for union with the Divine. The text is also strewn with telling social comment. The ills of contemporary life, its inequalities and artificialities are sharply noticed.

Structure and meaning

There are lines alluding to the moral decay that had set in, and showing how cant, hypocrisy and superstition passed under the name of religion and how people had begun aping the dress and language of their foreign masters. The Var opens with the praise of the Guru, the spiritual preceptor, who brings light into the world:

"Were a hundred moons to rise and a thousand suns, the light so created will be but utter darkness without the Guru."

In this sloka Guru Angad is saying how vital the Guru`s instruction is for the individual.

  • God, says Guru Nanak, is the creator of all that exists and in His creation He manifested His name. He, the Beneficent One, is the source of mercy and grace (1). They who attach themselves to His Name are the winners in life; the rest remain losers (2). One will find by His grace alone the true Guru who puts him in the path of righteousness and helps him rid himself of his ego (3). The Guru will reveal to him the truth. Without the aid of the Guru, no one has comprehended the Reality. The Guru helps one to overcome one`s attachment to what is unreal and leads one to liberation everlasting (6). They who cherish the true Lord turn not their feet towards sin. Their path is paved with good deeds and they practise righteousness. They sing praises of the Supreme Being and rejoice in His grace (7). All the formal acts of piety and all the austerities performed at holy places will be of little avail. They alone will please the Lord who give Him their loving devotion. God`s own minstrel, Nanak, seeks the company of those who remain absorbed in Him (9).
  • In the world beyond neither caste nor power will prevail. They alone will receive honour there who are by the Lord favoured. Sweetness and humility are the essence of all virtue. Rejecting the sacred thread of the highborn. Guru Nanak tells the Brahman that he had little use for the ceremonial cord which got soiled and broke. What he would rather have was a cord made of the cotton of compassion, spun into the thread of contentment, twisted with truth and knitted with continence. He who submits to the Lord`s will is approved and is received at the divine portal. Commenting upon the hypocrisy prevalent in contemporary society, he says that Brahmans wear their traditional apparel and apply the saffron mark on their foreheads, yet they eat the grain they receive from those they call unclean.
  • Inside their homes they worship their idols, and outside they read books of the Muslims and take to their ways. Those wearing the sacred thread round their neck carry in their hand the butcher`s knife. The woman who has given birth to a child is not impure as the custom decrees. Impurity is the mind which is filled with covetousness, impure is the tongue which utters falsehood, impure are the eyes which look at another`s woman; impure is the ear which listens to slander. The impurity of impurities is to become attached to anyone/anything other than Him. Why call woman evil of whom great men are born? Do not stigmatize anyone as evil. That is the essence of all knowledge. Nor should one argue with a fool (19).
  • He who carries a harsh tongue, his mind and body are both impaired. In the true Lord`s court will he be discarded. Remember always the Lord by cherishing whom one lives ever in comfort (21). How just are they who sow poison and hope to distil nectar from it? Infinite and unlimited is the Lord. He Himself is the doer and He Himself causes things to be done. Before whom else may one lay one`s appeal (23)? Beyond enumerating are the excellences of the Supreme Being. He is the Creator, the Beneficent One, the Sustainer of all. One but does what one is assigned to.

The message of Asa ki Vaar

The Asa-di-var does not tell a story, its theme is: "How to become a spiritual person"- a devta, "a spiritual being". In it, Guru Nanak also warns us against the rituals and tricks of priests and monks. The most important thing is how to build up one's character and how to remove the obstacles that lay in the path of a disciple, the most important of which is the ego, selfishness or conceit.

Even holy persons, who are outwardly very good and kind, often suffer from religious pride. Sometimes so-called religious people, commit heinous crimes through self-righteousness and bigotry. It should be remembered that Ego in its pure essence is self-awareness or identity which when regulated is an essential, for it is the basis of one's character or moral nature. When regulated by right motivation and active service, it is positive and beneficial. But if uncontrolled through self pride of position or riches, it becomes selfish and mean.

The effects of the Ego are particularly contemptible and disastrous when disguised by the apparent holiness or tradition, which exploits ordinary people's ignorance and credulity. The practice of humility and love are the most effective qualities for keeping people away from sin, far better than all recitations and rituals of religion.

Initially, it is the fear of God's wrath or displeasure which inspires the seeker to offer worship and prayer. Over the years this fear should become gradually replaced by love and self surrender, so that he loses his Impatience with those who are imperfect; he is in sympathy with them, for they are like strayed sheep. Only by self-discipline and serving other people, can one become worthy of divine grace. Associate with holy persons and learn from them, the secrets of spiritual wisdom.

Egotism, pollution and falsehood

The Asa-di-var also deals with concepts like Guru, Grace, Egoism, pollution (Sutak) and falsehood. The Guru's personality and message transform the life of the disciple. Guru Nanak says:

"By meeting the Guru, The Truth, is realised; He banishes Ego from the mind of man; He gives insight in to supreme Reality. Only The Guru can grant the gift of "The Holy Name." (AG, 465)

The Guru sets a course of life for his disciple, that of plain living and high thinking. Following this, the seeker's life-style begins to change:

"The good ones, who are absorbed in "The Truth," do service; They do no evil; They travel on the right path and do what is just; They break worldly bonds. They eat and drink, little." (AG, 467)

There is also the concept of 'Self.' Our individual self is only a minuscule part of Universal Reality. It is only by understanding our own self-limits that we achieve the highest goals of our own existence.

Ignorance, selfishness and self-gratification

Through ignorance, we engage ourselves in selfishness and enjoyment, this will frustrate our hopes of a higher life. Man starts this life coupled to the background of his previous life. His past and present mould his future. We have self-will with which we can modify our own conduct. It is only when we attune our own will to the Supreme Will, that we can become super-men.

Now to a summary of the Asa-di-var in serial order. After explaining the role of a spiritual teacher (Guru) Nanak goes to tell us that divine wisdom is acquired through intellect. The Guru offers us a vision of a God whose whole presence in made manifest in Nature. The world is not a dream, but an impermanent reality. If people really observe God's creation, they will be filled with wonder. The entire Cosmos, follows Divine Ordinance or law; so should we. The Lord is not pleased by the theatrics of the so-called ncarnates, but only by acts of love and devotion.

The religious teacher instructs his disciples to distinguish good from bad, true from false. However, the assertion of individual ego, is the great obstacle to the process of moral law. So that our self-assertiveness should be replaced by self-surrender. By submission to His Divine Will, one may win the favour of the Lord.

Judged by our conduct

Secular knowledge or scholarship does not prevent us from sinning. Ultimately we will be judged not by our learning or status, but by our conduct. Arguing, hair-splitting over sacred texts, the performance of rituals and traditional offerings or the wearing of symbols or other marks of holiness, are of no avail. What counts is self-control, purity and compassion.

God knows our inner selves and cannot be cheated by any so-called holy practice. He reads our hearts and is not affected by only recitations of holy texts, markings on the fore-head with sandal-wood paste, cooking food within plastered squares, offering of choice dishes and libations of water, or by the barley-rolls and leafy platters, served to priests for the benefit of the dead. These things are done to win popular acclaim or to appease priests.

Guru Nanak exposed the maladies of his time. Both Hindu and Muslim have strayed from the path of their religious preceptors and practised greed, falsehood, extortion and tyranny. The Guru rejected the 'Transfer-theory' of Brahmins, that offerings given to them, were of benefit to the ancestors of the donors. God will ultimately punish them for deceiving and exploiting ordinary people.

Misconceptions about nature

Guru Nanak also exposed any idea of pollution, being connected with the events of birth and death. These two are natural events being ordained by God. Real pollution is self incurred; it comes from greed, lust, lying and slander, all of which corrupt the mind. There is nothing wrong with food and drink. Impurity does not exist in matter, but in one's ego, indifference to God and other people.

Guru Nanak also warned us against lust in sex. In his era, women were neglected and held in contempt by men. Both Hindus and Muslims, ill-treated their women. The Guru praised the role of woman in family life. Prof. Puran Singh wrote in this connection:

"The Guru transcends gender of the person. Women, says the Guru, are the centre of life here on earth and in heaven. Man is born of woman; he is wedded to women. How can woman be outside the spiritual court, she who gives birth to the geniuses of this world? Talking slander, as is done of woman, is to slander one's soul."

Women are equally responsible to God for their actions There is no reason why we should conduct ourselves so foolishly towards each other. If we are learned, we should not call any one low or inferior. Let there be no rudeness or discourtesy between one person and another. People who are over-bearing and haughty only harden their own hearts. All people are equal and human. It is not right for any one to pass judgment on or vilify others.

Seeker of "Truth"

The True seeker of "The Truth" welcomes all that comes from God-both good or ill-as a blessing. He does not criticize Him or rail at Him. A love of God cannot live in the heart that loves only itself. Servants of God must content themselves by obeying only God's will and asking for no reward or bonus. If they abide by His will, they will be content and filled with compassion for others. They will not feel disturbed, if others appear to be more fortunate. They constantly endeavor to put their wills in harmony with Divine Will.

Summing up the Asa-di-var's message we can summarise it under three headings; ethical, social and metaphysical. Under ethical teaching, we find the Guru's emphasis is on over coming one's ego by humility, truth, virtue, holy living and keeping the company of saints. Even though the Guru also puts a premium on discrimination-Bibek-Budhi--learning to sort good from bad, he emphatically refutes any belief that austerities like fasting, bathing, ritual worship have spiritual merit.

The social teaching of the Guru relates to the current trends of the age; caste pride and prejudice, bribery, greed, hypocrisy, the tyranny of kings and rulers and priestly class as all of which were accepted as a matter of course. The Guru pointed to the need of improving of the conditions of the poor and under-privileged. The metaphysical aspect of the Asa-di-var emphasizes Divine Ordinance (Hukum), God's grace, the wonders of Nature and the pervading spirit of God in all His creation. The style of the language of the Asa-di-var is crisp, and pithy. Some of the lines form proverbs which need to be treasured. A few are given below:

Suffering is a remedy, pleasure a disease (for in pleasure God is forgotten).
Sweetness of speech and humility are the essence of virtues.
Ego is a deep-rooted disease, but in it lies its own cure as well.
Learned fools are those in love with scepticism and doubt.


Summary

Asa Ki Var is a collection of 24 pauris or stanzas written by Guru Nanak Devji (Sri Guru Granth Sahib, page 462-475). The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev ji wrote the first 9 together on one occasion and later wrote 15 more stanzas on a different occasion. These two parts were then compiled together by the 5th Guru, Guru Arjan Dev ji in 1604 AD.

When Guru Arjan Dev ji was assimilating the Holy Granth, he added a few Sloks of Guru Nanak and in some cases Guru Angad Dev ji, the second Guru of the Sikhs. These Sloks are tied together in a way that they relate to the same theme as highlighted in the pauri. In its present form, the Asa Di War contains a few more shabads recited by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Sikh Guru.

The Asa Di War kirtan is recited in the early morning hours in a very melodious way and style as mentioned by Guru Arjan Dev Ji called "Tunde Asraje Ki Dhuni" after the name of the contemporary brave and pious king Asraj. One of the hands of the king was amputated, so he was called Tunda meaning crippled. The deeds and the ode of this king was sung by the bards in that typical fashion which then was extremely popular and melodious and was therefore adopted to performing Asa Di War.

The Bani in English

Main article: Asa di Var - the bani

The bani translated into English

(From SGGS Page 462 line 17 to page 475 line 10).

One Universal Creator God. Truth Is The Name. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Undying. Beyond Birth. Self-Existent. By Guru's Grace:

  • Aasaa, First Mehl: Vaar With Shaloks, And Shaloks Written By The First Mehl. To Be Sung To The Tune Of 'Tunda-Asraajaa':

Part 1: Chant 1 - 4

  • Shalok, First Mehl: A hundred times a day, I am a sacrifice to my Guru; He made angels out of men, without delay. ||1||
  • Second Mehl: If a hundred moons were to rise, and a thousand suns appeared, even with such light, there would still be pitch darkness without the Guru. ||2||
  • First Mehl: O Nanak, those who do not think of the Guru, and who think of themselves as clever, shall be left abandoned in the field, like the scattered sesame. They are abandoned in the field, says Nanak, and they have a hundred masters to please. The wretches bear fruit and flower, but within their bodies, they are filled with ashes. ||3||
  • Pauree: He Himself created Himself; He Himself assumed His Name. Secondly, He fashioned the creation; seated within the creation, He beholds it with delight. You Yourself are the Giver and the Creator; by Your Pleasure, You bestow Your Mercy. You are the Knower of all; You give life, and take it away again with a word. Seated within the creation, You behold it with delight. ||1|| More.....

Part 2: Chant 5 - 8

  • Shalok, First Mehl: All the hours are the milk-maids, and the quarters of the day are the Krishnas. The wind, water and fire are the ornaments; the sun and moon are the
incarnations. All of the earth, property, wealth and articles are all entanglements. O Nanak, without divine knowledge, one is plundered, and devoured by the Messenger of Death. ||1||
  • First Mehl:
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.
They beat the drums for the sake of bread.
They throw themselves upon the ground.
They sing of the milk-maids, they sing of the Krishnas.
They sing of Sitas, and Ramas and kings.
The Lord is fearless and formless; His Name is True.
The entire universe is His Creation.
Those servants, whose destiny is awakened, serve the Lord.
The night of their lives is cool with dew; their minds are filled with love for the Lord.
Contemplating the Guru, I have been taught these teachings; granting His Grace, He carries His servants across.
The oil-press, the spinning wheel, the grinding stones, the potter's wheel, the numerous, countless whirlwinds in the desert, the spinning tops, the churning sticks, the threshers, the breathless tumblings of the birds, and the men moving round and round on spindles
- O Nanak, the tumblers are countless and endless.
The Lord binds us in bondage - so do we spin around.
According to their actions, so do all people dance.
Those who dance and dance and laugh, shall weep on their ultimate departure.
They do not fly to the heavens, nor do they become Siddhas.
They dance and jump around on the urgings of their minds.
O Nanak, those whose minds are filled with the Fear of God, have the love of God in their minds as well. ||2|| More....

Part 3: Chant 9 - 12

  • Shalok, First Mehl:

You may read and read loads of books; you may read and study vast multitudes of books.

You may read and read boat-loads of books; you may read and read and fill pits with them.

You may read them year after year; you may read them as many months are there are.

You may read them all your life; you may read them with every breath.

O Nanak, only one thing is of any account: everything else is useless babbling and idle talk in ego. ||1||

  • First Mehl:

The more one write and reads,

the more one burns.

The more one wanders at sacred shrines of pilgrimage,

the more one talks uselessly.

The more one wears religious robes, the more pain he causes his body.

O my soul, you must endure the consequences of your own actions.

One who does not eat the corn, misses out on the taste.

One obtains great pain, in the love of duality.

One who does not wear any clothes,

suffers night and day.

Through silence, he is ruined.

How can the sleeping one be awakened without the Guru?

One who goes barefoot suffers by his own actions.

One who eats filth and throws ashes on his head - the blind fool loses his honor.

Without the Name, nothing is of any use.

One who lives in the wilderness, in cemetaries and cremation grounds - that blind man does not know the Lord; he regrets and repents in the end.

One who meets the True Guru finds peace.

He enshrines the Name of the Lord in his mind.

O Nanak, when the Lord grants His Grace, He is obtained.

He becomes free of hope and fear, and burns away his ego with the Word of the Shabad. ||2|| More....

Part 4: Chant 13 - 16

  • Shalok, First Mehl:

O Nanak, the soul of the body has one chariot and one charioteer.

In age after age they change; the spiritually wise understand this.

In the Golden Age of Sat Yuga, contentment was the chariot and righteousness the charioteer.

In the Silver Age of Traytaa Yuga, celibacy was the chariot and power the charioteer.

In the Brass Age of Dwaapar Yuga, penance was the chariot and truth the charioteer.

In the Iron Age of Kali Yuga, fire is the chariot and falsehood the charioteer. ||1||

  • First Mehl:

The Sama Veda says that the Lord Master is robed in white; in the Age of Truth, everyone desired Truth, abided in Truth, and was merged in the Truth.

The Rig Veda says that God is permeating and pervading everywhere; among the deities, the Lord's Name is the most exalted.

Chanting the Name, sins depart; O Nanak, then, one obtains salvation.

In the Jujar Veda, Kaan Krishna of the Yaadva tribe seduced Chandraavali by force.

He brought the Elysian Tree for his milk-maid, and revelled in Brindaaban.

In the Dark Age of Kali Yuga, the Atharva Veda became prominent; Allah became the Name of God.

Men began to wear blue robes and garments; Turks and Pat'haans assumed power.

The four Vedas each claim to be true.

Reading and studying them, four doctrines are found.

With loving devotional worship, abiding in humility, O Nanak, salvation is attained. ||2|| More....

Part 5: Chant 17 - 20

  • Shalok, First Mehl:

The thief robs a house, and offers the stolen goods to his ancestors.

In the world hereafter, this is recognized, and his ancestors are considered thieves as well.

The hands of the go-between are cut off; this is the Lord's justice.

O Nanak, in the world hereafter, that alone is received, which one gives to the needy from his own earnings and labor. ||1||

  • First Mehl:

As a woman has her periods, month after month, so does falsehood dwell in the mouth of the false; they suffer forever, again and again.

They are not called pure, who sit down after merely washing their bodies.

Only they are pure, O Nanak, within whose minds the Lord abides. ||2|| More....

See also

External links

Video

Audio


References

  • Excerpts taken from: A Book of Sikh Studies: Dr. Gobind Singh Mansukhani 1989
  • Teja Sirigh, Asa di Var. AMRITSAR, 1968
  • Vohra, Asha Nand, Asa ki Var. ROHTAK, 1969
  • Kohli, Surindar SINGH, Guru Nanak :Jivan, Darshan ate Kavi-Kala. Chandigarh, 1969
  • Vir Singh, Bhai, Sarithya Sri Guru GraritA Sahib. Amritsar, 1975
  • Sahib Sirigh, Satik Asa di Var. Amritsar, 1978
  • Sher Sirigh, Giani, Tika Asa di Var (3 parts). Rawalpindi, 1910-20


These are the Popular Banis of Sikhism

Mool Mantar | Japji | Jaap | Anand | Rehras | Benti Chaupai | Tav-Prasad Savaiye | Kirtan Sohila | Shabad Hazaray | Sukhmani | Salok Mahala 9 | Asa di Var | Ardas