BARAH MAHA or BARAH MASA (in Hindi), is a form of folk poetry in which the emotions and yearnings of the human heart are expressed in terms of the changing moods of Nature over the twelve months of the year. In this form of poetry, the mood of Nature in each particular month (of the Indian calendar) depicts the inner agony of the human heart which in most cases happens to be a woman separated from her spouse or lover.
In other words, the separated woman finds her own agony reflected in the different faces of Nature. The tradition of Barah Maha poetry is traceable to classical epochs. In Sanskrit, the Barah Maha had the form of shad ritu varnan, i.e. description of the six seasons (shad = six; ritu = season; varnan = description), the most wellknown example being Kalidasa's Ritu Sanhar. The mode was commonly employed to depict the moods of the love stricken woman in separation, and it became an established vogue in medieval Indian poetry. Modern languages of northern India claim several distinguished models. In Hindi, the first instance of this poetic form occurs in Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat.
In Punjabi, Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Barah Maha in the measure Tukhari is not only the oldest composition belonging to this genre but also the first in which the theme of love poetry has been transformed into that of spiritual import. He made the human soul the protagonist which suffers in the cesspool of transmigration as a result of its separation from the Supreme Soul. This is followed by Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s Barah Maha.
Later some Sufi poets such as 'Ali Haider, Bulleh Shah, Hasham, and Shah Murad also wrote barah mahas. Haflz Barkhurdar was the first poet in the Punjabi romantic tradition to compose a barah maha as an independent work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were a number of barah mahas and siharffs written in Punjabi. Poetry in this class can be broadly divided into various types religious, farmers' narrative (included in an epic poem), viraha (separation) and 'trial of chastity* variety. Guru Arjan's Barah Maha falls in the viraha category, depicting through the twelve months, the pangs of the bride, i.e. the human soul separated from her Divine Essence.
Bara Maha Manjh
It is Guru Arjan's calendar poem in the measure Majh included in the Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS, pages 133 to 136). The Bani was composed at the behest of Sikh Sangat when they approached Guru Arjan and requested that Guru Nanak Sahib's composition mentioned below in Tukhri raag is very difficult for them to understand. The opening verse of the composition presents the binary theme of the poem: the factual situation of the human soul's separation from the Divine Soul (kirati karam ke vichhure bound by our deeds are we parted from Thee), and its quest for union with Him (kari kirpa melahu ram by Thy grace grant union, 0' Lord).
Torn as under from her Immutable Origin, she suffers; for instance: asaru tapanda tisu lagai hari nahu najinna pasi the month ofAsar burns for her who does not have her Divine Husband close to her.
These individuals are tortured by duality: they see themselves apart from the Eternal One. Thus they remain victims to Yama, the god of death, and keep migrating from one birth to another.
Year begins with Chet, ends with Phagan
This existing tragedy is attributed to karma, past deeds, which are referred to as malu or filth which accumulates through successive births. But time passages. One month passes into the next. The Bikarami year begins with Chet and ends with Phagan (Phalguna) only to begin again with Chet (Chaitra).
As one sows so shall one reap. With good deeds then, the chasm can be bridged. Time these very twelve months offers opportunities to unite with the Timeless One. But two conditions apply first, initiative on the part of the individual in the form of an intense longing (8), keeping company of the holy (2,6,12), reciting the Divine Name (4, 6,8,10), singing the praises of the Infinite (13) and realizing that He is indeed with the self (2); and second, the favour, the grace of the Lord Divine.
Throughout the composition we hear Guru Arjan beseech Him for His mercy, His benevolent glance (nadar). Once united, ultimate liberation is achieved and one is freed from the cycle of birth and death. Through the months, months are transcended. Time takes one into the state of Timeless everlasting bliss.
Vaisakh, Jhet, Asar (Harh) and Savan
Excluding the opening stanza which serves as a prologue and the concluding one which serves as epilogue, each of the intervening stanzas commences with the name of the month, beginning with Chet. By cherishing the Lord in the month of Chet one attains bliss abundant. Baisakh, the month following Chet, becomes gladsome only if one meets the Lord's devotees who help him end his duality (3). Asar is scorching for those separated from the Spouse (5) and Savan is blessed for such of the united wives as cherish in their hearts the Name Divine (6).
However, man's own forgetfulness of God is the cause of all his suffering. All duality and pangs end as one by excelling good fortune attains union with the Lord (9). In the month of Magh, man must 'bathe' in the dust of the feet of the holy and remember His name, for thus alone can he wash off the dirt of past deeds (12). The poem concludes with the statement that for him upon whom rests the Lord's grace, all months and days and all timings are auspicious (14). It is this Divine nadar or benevolent glance coupled with the individual's own initiative which helps him break the cycle of transmigration and win acceptance at the Lord's portal.
Philosophical structure for the year
The Barah Maha has its philosophical structure. It artistically celebrates the existence of the Singular Reality and reiterates that there is none other besides Him: Prabh binu avaru na koi (3); prabh tudhu binu duja ko nahi (5); prabh vinu duja ko nahi (8). This adumbrates the basic tenet of Sikhism. The poem also poses the Sikh paradox that while He is in everything and is everywhere: Jali thali mahialipuria ravia vichi vana He pervades waters, the earth and the spaces and He is in the woods and glades (2), He is utterly unfathomable and unknowable agam agahu (11).
Thus fully Immanent as well as Transcendent is He. The Sikh understanding of the world is here affirmed as a "separation" in which there is no essential gap between the Creator and His creation, but because of the illusionary vision, the human ego, the self is seen as apart from its ontological core. The soteriological goal thus is the "unity" which rather than being a physical merging is fundamentally a realization of That One within.
Furthermore, in keeping with the Sikh metaphysical postulate, God is compassionate and merciful, and He will by His grace (nadar) end some day all duality and suffering. In fact, so caring is the Lord Master that "He will draw you unto Himself by the arm for union everlasting karu gahi lini parbrahmi bahuri na vichhuriahu (11).
Optimism and hope
The concluding verses recall towards the phenomenal world. One must participate in life, discarding hesitation. All beginnings will be made auspicious for him were he to have trust in the Divine favour. Optimism is the keynote of this poem of viraha or the pang of separation. The philosophical ideals of the Sikh faith have thus been mirrored most poetically in the Barah Maha. The reader is struck immediately by the enthralling rhythm of the composition. Both assonance and consonance have been employed to telling effect. The lines in the different stanzas run in rhyme.
For instance, in the opening passage, "am" is repeated throughout; in the second, "na"; in the last "re". Guru Arjan's Barah Maha is recited ceremonially at Sikh congregations or by individuals at their homes on the first day of each of the Indian solar months. This is a way of announcing the beginning of the new month and invoking Divine blessing.
Bara Maha Tukhri by Guru Nanak
Guru Nanak's Bara Maha or "twelve months" composition in Raga Tukhari in the Guru Granth Sahib on pages 1107 to 1110, stands out in Sikh literature for its poetic splendour and philosophical import.
The movement of the twelve months, including the lunar and solar days, and the effect of their transition upon beings of diverse species those born from the egg (andaj), those born from the foetus (/era/), those born from the sweat (seta/), and those born from the earth (utbhuj) have been poignantly and picturesquely portrayed in this poem. Herein, time and space universal as well as particular have been richly fused in the person of a young bride ardently searching for her Divine Bridegroom through the cameos of the changing reality of the twelve months.
The Indian calendar begins with the month of Chet or Chaitra (midMarch to midApril). It is a month of splendour. Flowers in the woods are in bloom, the bumblebee hums rapturously, the koel sings on the mango tree, the bee hovers around the bush fully in blossom. Chet is springtime when Nature is at its glorious best and the air is saturated with joy. Every creature seems to have someone to celebrate the season's beauty with the bumblebee its blossoms, the wood its flowers, the koel its mango tree.... But, piru ghari nahiavai dhan kiu sukhu pavai birahi birodh tanu chhijai The Groom hasn't returned home; then how will the bride be comforted? She shrivels away in pangs of separation. (SGGS, 1108) The young woman, then, is the only one who stands isolated. She is the one who does not have her Groom by her side. The beauty and lusciousness of springtime sharpen her sense of deprivation. Whereas everything in Nature is blooming, she in separation is withering away. Paradoxical though it may sound, this state of contrast with the surroundings presents the picture of an organic structure to which she belongs and of which she indeed is the centre. But unfortunately she cannot participate in the reigning beauty of the season, for her Groom is not with her. Perhaps because of her separation and forlornness, she becomes all the more aware of the togetherness and rapture of everyone and everything around her and who all seem to her to fit into a perfectly integrated joyous "system."
Following Chet is the month of Vaisakh (midApril to midMay) when the tree boughs get clothed in fresh leaf. The bride "sees" (dhan dekhai) the newness in verdure and begs the Groom to come home. Since this is the month of harvest, the farmers negotiate business deals. Commerce enters the bride's vocabulary too : "... tudhu binu adhu na molo kimati kaun kare tudhu bhavan ... without you I am not worth a dime, but if you are with me, I become priceless" (SGGS, 1108). She then wishes that someone, somehow, would see her Beloved and help her to see Him dekhi dikhavai dholo. Nature, commerce, fellow ^luman beings, spiritual quest become synthesized in the bride's world view.
In the month of Jeth "Why should the Groom be forgotten ? pritamu kiu bisarai" (SGGS, 1108) sings the bride. In the heat ofJeth, the earth burns like a furnace. This external heat drives all beings to inwardness. In search of the cool, all creatures are on the lookout for the farthest interior. The bride too like St. Teresa moves into her Interior Castle, contemplating upon the Divine Groom and His virtues. The geographical locale is in harmony with her psychological state.
In the scorching month of Asar, the sun blazes in the skies. Its fire sucks the sap of the earth. The earth roasts and suffers. Even the crickets wail. But the chariot of the sun marches on. The bride seeks shade chhaia dhan takai. Here the bride is a full participant in the cosmic scene: she shares the suffering of the earth, of the cricket. The great earth and the tiny cricket are representatives of the entirety of creation. All suffer. Their search for the cool shade is quintessentially reflected in the bride's search for chhaia (shade).
After the blazing heat of Asar comes the month of Savan bringing welcome rainshowers. The earth is cooled and quenched, but not the bnide, for her Groom is still in the faroff land pirpardesi sidhae. She lies alone on the bed. Along with the pain of solitude is the fear: the lightening amid the monsoon clouds terrifies her. Nature around her does not soothe the pain of her heart. She addresses her mother: "maranu bhaia dukhu mae 0' mother, it is death for me" (SGGS, 1108). Having lost her sleep and appetite, the bride in the month of Savan lives a deathlike life. The integration of polarities life and death, lightning in the skies and the bed on which she, alone, tosses and turns in darkness is accomplished in the person of the bride.
Sawan is the fifth month in the traditional Sikh Nanakshahi calendar. This month coincides with July and August in the Gregorian and Julian calendars. It is 31 days long. The month starts on July 16 and ends on August 15. Next Sikh month Bhadon starts on August 16
Bhadon is the month of opulence : both land and river are in flood. During the entire dark night it rains. Birds and animals feel invigorated. They shriek as if they cannot contain the fullness within: peacocks sing, the frogs croak, the papiha cries forth, "priu priu Love 0' my Love." Overflowing with life, the snakes sneak out to bite; the mosquitoes swarm out to sting. And the pools overflow with water. The pulsating animate and inanimate worlds are coordinated into a vivid pattern. Juxtaposed to this bursting forth of Nature is the bride's desolation. She yearningly contemplates the fullness, the energy, the joy surrounding her. Standing in the centre of it all, she exclaims, "binu hari kiu sukhu paiai where, where is comfort for one without the Groom ?"
The bride's actualization of Asuni (Asuj), the seventh month, is, in fact, a realization of her own self. The cosmic time and space mirror her situation. Because she is beguiled by a sense of duality, she stands forsaken by her singular Groom and remains in separation.
On the ground, "kukah kah si phule the countryshrubs bearing white flowers are in bloom" (SGGS, 1109). These white flowers represent her own white hair; .the bride is greying. Furthermore, the coming season frightens her: "agai gham pichhai ruti jada dekhi chalat manu dole gone is the summer and cold winter is soon to come; this makes my heart tremble" (SGGS, 1109).
What the bride realizes at this seasonal juncture is the loss of her youth and the setting in of old age, and she becomes apprehensive. But she also sees in this autumn month some green boughs which instil optimism in her. The possibility of meeting with her Groom again strikes her. "sahaji pakai so mitha that alone is ripesweet which ripens slowly in its own sweet time" (SGGS, 1109), the bride tells herself.
In the month of Kattak or Kartik, the days begin to get shorter. Lamps are lit earlier in the evenings. The lamp becomes in the poem a symbol rich in nuance. It represents the refined emotional and intellectual faculties of the bride which will eventually lead her to apprehend the Divine. The traditional lamp or dipak is a tiny clay bowl, pointed at one end, with a cotton wick and filled with oil. But only that lamp shines steadily which is lighted by the match of knowledge dipaku sahaji balai tati jalaia, and whose oil is rasa, the aesthetic essence of love dipak rasa telo (SGGS, 1109).
Simultaneously, the lamp is essential to seeing, to recognizing. The powers of eyesight and insight coalesce in it. Suggesting coalition of knowledge (kindling match) and love (oil) in the bride's psychological condition, the dipak connects her physical with "cosmic" time, with the evenings of the month of Kattak. In this state she feels she is closer to achieving her goal union with the Groom.
In the month of Maghar, the bride listens to the praise of her Divine Groom through song, music, and poetry, and her sorrow departs "git nad kavit kavai suni ram nami dukhu bhagai" (SGGS, 1109). Here can be discerned the effect of aesthetics upon the human mind: music/sound which travels in external atmosphere penetrates into the very being of the bride. Thereby, her sorrow (dukhu), literally vanishes away (bhagai). Vividly comes through the passage the picture of the bride sitting amidst other women and men, listening to song, music and poetry. She is part of a symphonic gathering, the congregation or sangat in Sikh terminology in the Tolstoyan sense, a community created by art. We thus see in the month of Maghar the bride as a participant within a community which cherished the recital of the Divine Name.
The description of the month of Poh or Pokh begins with the line:
pokhi tukharu parai vanu trinu rasu sokhai In Pokh the snow falls, sapping the rasa from woods and grass. (SGGS, 1109) And it ends with: nanak rangi ravai rasi rasia hari siu priti saneho
Says Nanak, the bride who is in love with her Groom has the rasa of the charming Beloved to savour. (SGGS, noo) The contrast between the opening and the final line of the hymn is conspicuous : the cold white frost covering the earth sapping sway rasa of all vegetation is juxtaposed to the bride who, in her love for the charming Groom, would be savouring its rasa. Perhaps it is the panorama of the starkly white frost which ignites in the bride's imagination that warm and vibrant phantasy. Also, in the month of Pokh, the bride discerns herself to be related with all other creatures:
andaj jeraj seta/ utbhuj ghati ghati joti samani. darsanu dehu daiapati date gati pavau mati deho. (SGGS. 1109)
The one light (jyoti) permeates (samani) all hearts (ghati ghati), be they eggborn (andaj), foetusborn (jeraj), sweatborn (seta/), or earthborn (utbh iy). Through the singular e/an vitaJ the bride perceives the unity of the universe. From within this linked circle, she, in a lovely alliteration of the "d" "d 's"creating a circle of their own, ardently implores her Compassionate Groom (daiapati date) to bestow upon her a vision of Himself (darsan u dehu).
In Magh, the month of pilgrimage, the bride realizes that the pilgrim seat is within herself. The sacredness of all holy places and of all time would be hers, if her beauteous Groom was pleased with her:
pritam gun anke suni prabh banke tudhu bhava sari nava Gang jamun tab beni sangam sat samund samava punn dan puja parmesurjugijugi eko jata nanak maghi maharasu hari japi athsathi tirath nata
This would be my bath in the Ganga, the Yamuna and confluence with the Sarasvati and in the Seven oceans as well. All charity and worship for me is the recognition that, throughout the yug'as, there is but One Singular Groom. Says Nanak, in the month of Magh, to taste the great essence of the meditation upon the Beloved is alone worth bath in the sixtyeight holy rivers. (SGGS, 1109)
The pilgrim seat is within and not anywhere without. The sacredness of all holy places and of all time, the merit of bathing at the Ganga and the Yamuna and at their confluence with the Sarasvati as well as in the seven oceans, of all charity and worship would be the bride's if she were to win the Groom's favour. The Sikh view that external ritual is empty and unnecessary is here artistically established. Also, time is not chopped up: "yugas" are, in the literal sense, "yoked together" by the knowledge that the Singular Beloved pervades time past, present, and future.
Finally, in the month of Phagun, the bride effaces herself "apu gavaia." With the ego gone, her desires are ended "man mohu chukaia." Paradoxically, with the "integrator" of time and space gone, what remains is the integration itself. Continuous bliss is experienced. All duality vanishes. Even night and day are conjoined, for what is experienced continuously is utter ecstasy: "andinu rabasu bhaia." (SGGS, 1109).
The twelve months thus are very important, for it is within them that the "interaction of timeless with time" takes place: the young bride remains in quest of envisioning her Timeless Beloved within her historical context. One discerns here the foundations for the positive approach to life and living in the Sikh faith. In the final passage of the Barah Maha, Guru Nanak esteems all the twelve months, the six seasons, the lunar and the solar days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds as "bhale" blessed. Guru Arjan in his composition Barah Maha, in Raga Majh, reiterates this affirmative view of the phenomenal world in identical terminology. According to Nanak I, it is sometimes now, somewhere here, that the Singular Being pervading all time and space is instantaneously found: be das mah ruti thiti var bhale ghari murat pal sache ae sahaji mile. (SGGS, 1109)
Bara Maha downloads on Sikhroots.com
1. Zbavitel, D., The Development of the Baramosi in the Bengali Literature. Archiv Orientaini 29, 1961
2. Vaudeville, Charlotte, Barahmasa in India Literature. Delhi, 1986
3. Gunindar Kaur, Guru Granth Sahib : Its Physics and Metaphysics. Delhi, 1981
4. Padam, Piari Singh, Panjabi Bara Mahe. Patiala, 1959
5. Gurmukh Singh, Barah Maha. Ludhiana, 1986